New York lawmakers urge governor to end 'I Love NY' sign feud with FHWA

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 8/1/2018

A years-long battle between the New York State Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration over tourism signs along highways has some state lawmakers saying enough is enough. Six state representatives recently sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to explain what steps have been taken to prevent the loss of $14 million in penalties that could be handed down on Sept. 30.

On July 27, Reps. John Faso, R-Kinderhook; Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford; Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro; Chris Collins, R-Clarence; Tom Reed, R-Corning; and John Katko, R-Camillus, sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo regarding the controversial tourism highway signs.

Dating as far back as 2011, FHWA and NYSDOT have argued back and forth whether or not “I ♥ NY” and “Taste NY” signs along the state’s highways violate federal law. Cuomo installed more than 500 of these signs despite warnings from FHWA.

Title 23, Section 111 of the United States Code addresses appropriate use of public rest areas. Regarding advertising, the law states media displays are allowed solely within the facility and not legible from the main traveled way. The code also allows items designed to promote tourism in the state limited to books, DVDs and other media. Based on this law, FHWA says the New York tourism signs are illegal.

After several years of stating their case, FHWA made its move in February when the administration sent a letter notifying Cuomo that the state will be fined $14 million in the form of withholding federal funds if the signs remain. If the state removes the signs by Sept. 30, FHWA will reinstate funding. More fines are possible for each year the signs stay up.

As the Sept. 30 deadline nears, the signs are still standing. Some state lawmakers appear to be worried about the potential loss of funds.

“We urge you to direct NYSDOT and (the New York State Thruway Authority) to follow the law and not jeopardize the loss of badly needed federal funds for our highway and bridge repair programs,” the six representatives wrote in the letter.

Since at least 2016, NYSDOT and FHWA have been holding discussions about a possible resolution. The lawmakers ask Cuomo in the letter to inform them of what the status of those discussions is and how the state plans to avoid the stiff fine.

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