New York DOT's feud with FHWA over tourism signs comes to an end

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Thursday, October 04, 2018

A feud between two transportation agencies, one state and one federal, has finally come to an end. The New York State Department of Transportation recently announced it has reached an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration regarding the “I Love NY” tourism highway signs.

According to a news release, New York will start “designing a new advertisement campaign which will be profiled in various media outlets, as well as, easy to download apps that will coordinate with road signage.” The new campaign will adhere to federal regulations.

Now that a deal has been reached, FHWA will no longer withhold $14 million in federal funding for the state.

The tourism campaign that caused so much controversy was in effect for five years. Despite ongoing disputes with the federal government during that five-year period, the state DOT touted the campaign as “highly successful.” Now that the state is moving on to a new tourism campaign, the DOT essentially got away with a campaign that violated federal regulations now that the $14 million fine has been lifted.

“We will coordinate with our federal counterparts once we have more details on this new effort, and we will announce the campaign as soon as it is completed,” the state DOT said in a statement. “This agreement resolves the preexisting matter between the state and the federal government and the state will continue to receive all federal highway aid.”

In an effort to boost tourism in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the “I Love NY” and “Taste NY” initiatives. Part of the program involved installing more than 500 “I Love NY” signs on the highways across the state. This was done despite concerns from FHWA dating back to 2011 and an official ruling in 2013 prohibiting the signs.

FHWA claimed the Taste NY welcome centers also violate federal standards along the highways. Federal regulations prohibit governments from competing with private businesses by participating in certain commerce directly off the highways. The new welcome centers feature a variety of local foods and beverages.

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.

According to FHWA spokesman Neil Gaffney, the signs did not conform to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices federal standards. However, in a letter to FHWA Administrator Gregory Nadeau, NYSDOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll argued that changes made in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act “specifically authorize the use of ‘other media’ to ‘promote tourism in the state.’” In his letter, Driscoll claimed the signs followed standards in the manual.

Regarding the Taste NY rest areas, 23 U.S.C. 111 states “the state will not permit automotive service stations or other commercial establishments for serving motor vehicle users” on the rights-of-way of the interstate system. Exceptions to the rule include vending machines. The law prevents the government from competing with private businesses for the business of motorists, thereby driving traffic and commerce away from nearby towns.

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