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Highway Sign Dispute

An I Love New York sign stands along the New York State Thruway in Utica.

In a textbook case of a late Friday afternoon news dump, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration announced, with plenty of self-promotional spin, that it will do what should have been back when Barack Obama was president: Listen to the federal government and remove hundreds of state-funded illegal promotional signs on federal highways.

For two years, the Federal Highway Administration has been directing the state Department of Transportation and state Thruway Authority to remove the 500 "I Love NY" promotional signs that were posted in driver-distracting clusters on interstates. The FHA said the signs failed to comply with safety standards, and it gave New York time to get the issue fixed. But the Cuomo administration, which likes to think of itself as infallible, refused to yield. 

Until last week. That's when the FHA said New York will lose $14 million in federal funds if it fails to comply by the end of September.

Late in the business day on Friday, a joint statement from the heads of the state DOT and Thruway said they will bring the old signs down. They also claimed they were doing it because the sign campaign "has run its useful course" but also pointed out that it was "overwhelmingly successful" and said it would use materials from this campaign to launch a new one. To top it off, they acknowledged that with this new campaign, they will consult with feds in developing it.

We have a better idea. Let's just drop this entire effort.

If you've driven on an interstate, you've probably seen these signs. They are typically packed in a series, starting with a larger sign that shows a big group of tourism logos with type pushing a website and an app. Then a bunch of smaller signs with each individual logo appear in quick succession.

For people driving, the signs can be a distraction. And they offer little in the way of useful information. For $15,000 per sign, we think New York could have done better. 

The state is pointing to increased tourism numbers in New York state over the course of the campaign as proof that it's been successful, but that claim seems highly dubious. We're guessing that things like an improving economy and more traditional marketing efforts by the state and individual communities and attractions played a much larger role in the trend.

Rather than jeopardize getting into another standoff with the feds with whatever this new promotional campaign might look like, we advise the Cuomo administration to drop this campaign and find better uses for transportation agencies' time and money.