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Highway Sign Dispute

A truck passes a sign for "I Love New York" and other state attractions on the New York State Thruway, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in Utica, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Hundreds of New York interstate highway tourism signs at the center of a yearslong spat between the federal government and the Cuomo administration are being removed and relocated, state transportation officials said Thursday.

The Department of Transportation said crews for the agency and the Thruway Authority have begun removing the "I Love NY" signs along the Thruway system and other state highways, including Interstate 87 linking New York City and the Canadian border in northern New York.

In 2014, the state went ahead with plans to install hundreds of signs touting various components of New York's tourism industry despite being told by the Federal Highway Administration the signage didn't comply with federal regulations and therefore were illegal.

More than 500 signs wound up being installed in groups of five: a "motherboard" followed by four follow-up signs. The signs cost New York taxpayers more than $8 million to make and install.

The state faced losing $14 million in federal highway funding if it didn't remove all the signs by Sept. 30. An agreement announced just before the deadline kept the funding in place.

DOT officials said under the agreement the first sign in each group will remain with modifications, while the next four in each group will be relocated to service areas, welcome centers and state-owned facilities.

"We will also be modifying the remaining signs to include economic development regions of the state to facilitate areas of interest off the federal interstate highway system," DOT said in a statement.

Gannett News Service first reported crews started removing the signs Wednesday.

The sign spat became a campaign issue for Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he sought a third term, which he easily won in Tuesday's election by defeating Republican Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive. Molinaro and other GOP leaders criticized Cuomo over the sign campaign's cost and the drawn-out battle with the feds.

Cuomo defended the signs, saying they were a key component in a marketing campaign for the state's $100 billion tourism industry.

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