Governor Andrew Cuomo ignored warnings from the federal government regarding his initiative to put up hundreds of “I YNY” signs, worth a whopping $8.1 million, across several highways to promote the state.
Cuomo refused to take down the signs, even though he was warned many times that the signs were unsafe and in violation of federal law.
Action was finally taken by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) on Thursday, February 1. The New York State Department of Transportation was notified by the administration that $14 million in federal funds would be withheld from it. However, if the state managed to comply with the agency’s demands by September 30, then the money would be returned.
In a letter from the Acting Administrator of the FHA, Brandye Hendrickson, said, “Motorist safety is our primary objective. Because of the installation of more than 500 non-compliant signs and repeated notification to remove these installations, [we] will asses initial penalties for non-compliance effective immediately.”
According to The Post, “The penalty amounts to 1 percent of the funds the state receives from the federal government through the National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program. The feds argue that the signs violate rules aimed at preventing distracted driving — which leads to crashes and deaths across the nation’s roadways. Some of the signs advertise the iloveny.com website in addition to an IYNY smartphone app. Penalties for texting while driving in New York range from $50 to $400 and could designate a person as an ‘at-risk’ driver.”
On Thursday, the state Transportation Department insisted that the signs were a service to drivers and posed no safety issues.
On behalf of the Cuomo administration, DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said, “We believe the signs are safe and provide useful information to drivers and will continue to work with [the feds] on a mutually beneficial resolution to this matter.”
In 2014, during Cuomo’s State of the State address, the pricey plan to put up 514 signs promoting New York was hyped by the governor.
At that time, Cuomo said, “The goal is to get people who are on the roads off the roads and into communities and fostering and promoting the economy of the state of New York.”
Warnings that the signs were against the law and could bring penalties were given by federal officials as early as 2016. Back in November 2016, a FTA spokesman told The New York Times, “We have been clear with the New York state Department of Transportation that its tourism-related signs are out of compliance.”
He added that federal officials would “make a determination about the penalty,” which could range from “withholding federal approval for projects to withholding highway funding.”
Issues regarding the signs legality were dismissed over the years by Cuomo, who insists they were operating perfectly.
Last year, Cuomo told reporters, “We’ll deal with whatever the federal government is talking about. We’re having ongoing conversations with them, but it’s been a great, great success for this state.”
By Hannah Hayes