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State of New York State History

Signs of the Times: The $14 Million I Love NY Signs

Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau , Gannett

The I Love NY Interstate Highway signs are back in the news and for all the wrong reasons. I first reported on the construction of these illegal signs back on December 5, 2016 in the post

Signs of the Times: Follow the Money and Not the Cuomo versus Federal Government Showdown

The subject were the signs erected by the Department of Transportation in defiance of the Federal Highway Administration. The 514 out-of-state manufactured signs were hurriedly installed requiring overtime just prior to the July 4 weekend in 2014. The Governor found the funds he needed because that’s what the Governor can do when he wants something done.

The situation did not go over well with the FHA leading to on-and-off meetings between the state and federal organizations. The threat to the state was the loss of funding from the federal government if it refused to comply with federal rules. It would seem as if the state didn’t really take seriously the threat of any loss of funds over these 514 signs.

I next reported on the situation on February 5, 2017.  The Albany Bureau of Gannett led by reporter Jon Campbell had obtained additional information regarding the costs using FOIL requests.  The funding had been done through “emergency contracts” because as everyone knows what better qualifies as an emergency than I LoveNY signs. In the post I wrote:

Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the state Associated General Contractors, [said] this usage was “’not typical.’” Elmendorf’s words bear notice. He is a critic of the signs and said the money could have been better spent.

“I think the bigger concern is using capital dollars for something that certainly has no benefit to infrastructure and, I think you could argue, has negligible benefit for tourism, because they don’t really tell you anything.”

Exactly right. Cuomo has paid millions to market the Path through History concept but no money to create actual paths through history. For a person who wants to be president of the United States in a time of great national division, it is astonishing that he would engage in alternative facts and be so dismissive of the local and state history that helped make America great in the first place.

So I wrote one year ago.

What has happened since then?

The following articles by Campbell appeared in my local paper as well as a variety of papers throughout the state that are part of the Gannett chain.  I used the titles from my paper which may vary from the title used in other papers. The dates are from the website and not the publication dates which often were the following day.

February 15, 2017: ‘I Love NY’ Signs Cost More Than State First Claimed

The total cost was $8.1 million including about $3.6 million for materials and $4.5 million for installation. This figures compares to the $1.76 million originally reported for the 514 signs.

February 28, 2017: Cuomo Defends ‘I Love NY’ Signs

March 20, 2017: Feds, State Battling over Replacing I Love NY Signs (print title)
Feds say no, but NY replacing wind-swept I Love NY signs (website title)

The article refers to Mother Nature (temporarily) removing some signs through a wind storm that Cuomo refused to remove. The article concludes with a quotation from Assemblyman Stephen Hawley (R), Batavia: “Only in New York can you use taxpayer money in plain sight to fund illegal activities and no one bats an eye.” Naturally he was taken to task for his comment by those who champion the prowess of the federal government.

June 1, 2017: Feds Press NY on ‘I Love NY’ Signs

July 19, 2017: I Love NY Signs Aired at Congressional Hearing

September 28, 2017: Up or Down? Feds, State Continue Battle over I Love NY Signs

October 6, 2017: I Love NY: ‘Almost time’ to Change Signs, Gov. Andrew Cuomo Says

The Governor’s words were more suggestive of a change because after they had been up for over three years, they had served their purpose so perhaps something new was in order. There was no suggestion that they would be removed because they were illegal. He may have been laying the groundwork for the face-saving words he would use once he was compelled to remove them.

I had been clipping these articles from the local paper the old-fashioned way with a scissors waiting for the right time to write another blog about them. I didn’t know when that might happen but sooner or later something had to give. This month the signs hit the fan.

February 1, 2018: New DOT Chief Weighs in on ‘I Love NY’ Signs

Paul Karas, head of the state DOT, said on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, that his agency was not submitting a plan to the feds in the coming weeks to resolve ongoing issues over I Love NY highway signs. The agency did four days later. This item is a video of Karas being interviewed and not an article. As it turns out the coming weeks ended up being the coming days.

February 1, 2018: State Docked $14M for Violating Law – Installing I Love NY Highway Signs

Cuomo’s prediction comes true. He was right when he said the federal government would not take down the signs. Instead it ordered the state to do so by September 30 and withheld $14 million to force compliance. So add the cost of removing them to the $8.1 million cost of installing them.

This action attracted attention.

Newsday published an editorial Finally, New York’s useless highway signs will hit the road writing

the federal government is forcing Cuomo to take down the 514 nearly useless eyesores, which cost about $15,700 apiece.

The Post tactfully proclaimed: Cuomo Finally Signals ‘surrender’ in Highway-sign Fight

The gov’s minions don’t have much choice but to do as he orders. But it seems Cuomo found that “my way or the highway” doesn’t work with the Highway Administration.

The Poughkeepsie Journal delicately phrased Cuomo’s surrender this way:

STATE BLINKS: I Love NY Signs to Come Down by Summer to Avoid $14M fine

WARNINGS IGNORED: New NY highway signs are illegal, feds say

The counterpunch anticipated by Cuomo last year was that the signs had worked but had now outlived their usefulness and would be replaced by new signs and slogans which the FHA may or may not approve.

2018 is of course an election year and the governor position is on the ballot. Senator John DeFrancisco (R), Syracuse, as expected, criticized Cuomo for his actions and defiance (video).

He has called for hearings on the subject.

Naturally Cuomo is fighting back. DOT spokesman Joe Morrissey said: “Since it began, tourism has increased 18 percent and the economic impact of tourism jumped more than 20 percent. DOT makes road signs and the Senator should know that since this program was included in the budgets he voted for. We know he’s running for Governor, but this sort of nonsensical grandstanding should be left at the door.”

That claim led to the following counter-response by DeFrancisco:

The Governor and his DOT Commissioner are delusional. They must think that New Yorkers are morons to think that they would believe that illegal signs costing $8 million increased tourism by 20%. He just can’t admit that he’s wrong. Clearly, Andrew hasn’t learned any lessons from the Percoco trial.”

Let the games begin. Imagine if they catch on that the Path through History touted on those signs has been a joke and subject of ridicule for even longer than the signs!

Interestingly the Republican charge that the Democrat chief executive from Queens acted above the law in the state capital was eerily similar to the Democratic charge that the Republican chief executive from Queens in the national capital operates the same way.

P.S. For the history signs that actually are needed see my post from November 8, 2016: History Signs: Pathway to the Past.

How about taking all the millions the governor can find when he wants and spend some of it on the history signs themselves. Let’s take an inventory of the signs we do have, the corrections and repairs which are needed, and determine the signs we should have that we don’t.

P.P.S. It is time to look at the awards granted by I Love NY for the 2017 REDC funding for the Path through History touted on the signs.

13 thoughts on “Signs of the Times: The $14 Million I Love NY Signs

  1. Are you saying that some schlemeil (sp?) pol is using taxpayer funds to promote his image for a possible WH run in future?

    I have already made a comment to an online article this morning, about some other abuse of power. I used the quote that follows (from a source that I am unable to recall at this time):

    “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

  2. I love the new signs and especially love the state of the art welcome center in Fultonville west of Albany. I don’t love it when govt at any level spends obscene amounts of money on tasks that can be done cheaper. But what I seriously HATE – is language like this: “Some of the signs have non-conforming symbols, while others violate sign lettering and other standards,” highway administration spokesman Neil Gaffney said in a statement.

    This deep state arrogance is so offensive. What this is about is control and while I realize the interstates are partly or mostly sustained with Federal $ (obtained because states like NY contribute about $1.50 to the Feds for every $1 they get back) the idea that NY should play “Mother May I” with some deep state bozos in DC on an issue like this – offends me. “Nonconforming” not the same as objectionable. Help me understand what is objectionable about these signs?b Whatever you think of these signs or the cost and process – shouldn’t we be glad the State of NY is trying??

    1. If New York had wanted to comply with the federal regulations it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to do so. From the outside it looks like New York just did what it wanted and almost dared the federal government to do anything about it. At that point the conflict becomes more of one between alpha males than over any other principle. Still there are some issues about spacing and distracting drivers especially if there is too much print and it is too difficult to read at 70 MPH.

  3. I drove back to Utica from Albany today passing a set of the signs just east of Canajoharie near the new “Welcome Center” at a lock on the canal. As you drive in the Welcome Center there is a buoy tender’s boat, a contemporary canal workboat, displayed for the visitor’s edification. Just to add to the criticism, I thought that with all the money that was spent it might have been more appropriate for the bicentennial if they’d paid to have a reproduction of a 19th century Erie Canal boat built that tourists could see. The buoy tender’s boat is an attractive little boat, but seems too contemporary for the present historical observance.

    1. The Welcome Centers, which sometimes also have drawn objections from the FHA, and the Erie Canal Bicentennial are other projects separate from these I Love NY signs. One wonders sometimes how often the history community is part of the project team.

  4. When you say, “signs that exist,” do you mean the blue and yellow historic markers?

    1. No, those are history markers with no connection to I Love NY. I am referring to the I Love NY signs shown as an image in the post and in all the articles. They do not refer to specific sites but to programs in general like Taste NY and Path through History.

  5. On Monday, January 29th, 2018, I drove from Fishkill, NY to Binghamton, NY on I-84 and then Route 17 / I-86 North to Binghamton and then south back home in the afternoon. It was around this time that I heard about the Federal Government’s $14 Million “Penalty” being imposed – you noted below that it was on Feb. 1st.

    Governor Cuomo has stated that the I Love NY signs ARE SAFE . . . but I noticed that at least twice on Route 17, the 4 or 5 signs in a row – one after another – were located on the right side of the road . . . as the road was going around a bend . . . to the RIGHT.

    The signs weren’t visible until my car was within 100 or maybe 200 feet of them – going around the turn – AND I really couldn’t take my eyes off the road while in traffic – to read them as I drove past them ! ! !

    What the Heck ? ? ? Who’s bright idea was it to place these I Love NY signs on the side of the road while it curves to the right going around a big long bend in the road? ? ?

    P.S. I DID NOT KNOW that New York State KNEW that the I Love NY signs were against Federal Highway Regulations BEFORE having them made and installed . . . I always thought that the New York State DOT installed all of these signs – unaware that there was any problem. . . .

    $8.1 Million to install the Signs, and now probably $2 or $3 Million to have them removed – before the September 2018 deadline, so that’s $10,000,000 spent for Advertising . . .which could essentially be done for FREE . . . or for minimal costs on New York State’s Website and Websites of Historic Sites / Restaurants / and other Scenic Attractions throughout New York State!!!!!!!!!


    Steve Lynch – President
    Fishkill Historical Society

  6. Years ago, a state agency, I think it was New York State Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation, put up beautiful multi-panel stands at some of the Thruway rest areas. They were very well done. They had photos and detailed maps that provided specific information on the given region. They were timeless AND I believe they had corporate logos on them indicating they were done with donations. Now that was something worthwhile. Whatever happened to those? But this governor is as much on an empty suit as he is devoid of scruples and integrity.

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