Opinion & Blogs

Thruway Signs Came With Good Intentions, but Wasted Money


Decision to take down controversial signs ends a feud that never needed to happen


Sometimes, one has to know when to stop fighting a battle they’ve already lost. Unfortunately for the state of New York, it took several years, millions of wasted taxpayer dollars and holding our thruway infrastructure hostage to get to that point.

The blue “I Love NY” promotional signs posted all along the New York State Thruway were a good idea in principle. Indeed, over a year ago, I defended the signs’ purpose and their importance — as long as their purpose and importance were fulfilled correctly. But now, that initial “good idea in principle” has instead become one of the state’s larger financial debacles.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced on Friday that the more than 500 controversial signs would be coming down, putting an end to a years-long feud between the state and federal government over whether or not the signs violated federal highway safety regulations.

However, it is a feud that never needed to happen to begin with.

As far back as 2013, the federal government warned the state as it began putting up the signs that they were illegal in their current format. They were too big and were filled with too much information, exceeding the federal limit for words and pictures that is meant to prevent drivers from getting too distracted and possibly causing accidents.

Of course, New York decided to ignore those warnings and put the signs up anyway, and according to documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, even brushed off a formal proposal from the federal government to work together to create promotional signs that were both informative and compliant with the law.

Even after all the signs were up, Washington and Albany officials met in January 2017 to come up with a solution, but neither could find a compromise. Since then, the federal government has been threatening to cut off up to $1 billion in federal highway funding from New York, while the state has maintained that it didn’t do anything wrong.

Well, as it turns out, last Thursday the federal government announced it was fining New York $14 million in highway funding for installing and refusing to remove the thruway signs. Now that the Cuomo administration has conceded, it will have until the end of September to take all the signs down in order to get that $14 million reinstated.

So, the same signs that took $8.1 million in taxpayer money to build and install — that’s $15,000 per sign — will now be taken down and scrapped because they would cost the state $14 million in crucial highway funding otherwise.

To add insult to injury, the state was in such a hurry to get up these illegal signs that it ironically employed a company in Arkansas to assist in manufacturing them. Because nothing says “I Love NY” more than signs that promote New York’s homemade products being made in a state on the other side of the Mississippi River.

And in a move typical of the Cuomo administration, state officials completely talked around the announcement to take down the signs, saying the decision was made because the tourism initiative they were created for is now complete and was “overwhelmingly successful.”

“As the current campaign and signs are entering their fifth year, this message has run its useful course and we already plan to launch a new ‘I Love NY’ campaign this summer to support our tourism industry,” said the heads of the Department of Transportation and Thruway Authority in a joint statement on Friday. “The new campaign will be ‘NY has it all!’”

And that new campaign will come with comprehensive television and print advertising, and of course, new signs.

So now after years of sparring with Washington, wasting taxpayer money and having our federal funding held for ransom, we could very well be going down the same road again — just with a different name attached.

The DOT and Thruway Authority said in this new campaign, the state will “consult with the [Federal Highway Administration] during this process.”

If only New York had done that to begin with, or done that during the numerous opportunities its had since, we could’ve avoided this entire mess. When did New York think it was going to outmaneuver federal laws? And what guarantee do we have that the state won’t try the same charade again this time?

If there are new signs placed out on the side of the thruway — and if they do say “NY has it all” — they should also have “including bad decisions by its government” written underneath.

Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and contributing writer at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at http://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88


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