DOT & Thruway Authority Signs Point to Dysfunction

If you’ve driven on any portion of the New York State Thruway or major roadways across the state, you’ve seen them. Promotional “I Love NY” road signs have popped up like a case of blue measles along the state’s most-traveled highways and byways. 
 
There are 514 signs in all, located in every region of the state. The intent is commendable – to promote the state’s unique tourism opportunities. To that end, the governor has accomplished part of his goal, the signs are drawing attention. Unfortunately, the attention isn’t positive and is coming for all the wrong reasons.
 
Road signs should not be one of the top-10,000 issues being discussed in Albany. But, a questionable project (the necessity of which was curious from the start) has turned into a feud with federal regulators that puts infrastructure funding at risk and once again raises questions of this administration’s ability to be honest with the public.  
 
SIGN STRATEGY SHOULD BE SECOND-GUESSED
 
Federal regulators set specific guidelines for what states can and can’t do in regards to highway signage. The rules are there for a reason, and most of them are in the name of safety. In 2013, the state sought approval to install the signs, but ultimately the Federal Highway Administration denied the request. The governor’s team went ahead anyway, and the approach used was even more questionable than the decision to proceed.

  • Some of the signs were installed using “emergency contracts” to ensure they were in place before last year’s July 4 holiday weekend. This increased overtime costs and is a method generally used to conduct critical, immediate road repairs. How does installing a roadside tourism sign qualify as an emergency?
     
  • Despite promoting state tourism and the well-known “I Love NY” theme, some of the road signs were actually made in Arkansas. While awarding sub-contracts to out-of-state companies was permitted, it is unacceptable that tax dollars were spent outside New York on a measure to promote attractions within the Empire State.                      
     
  • That brings us to the cost, which has changed dramatically in recent days. In November, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) reported that the cost of materials for the signs was $1.7 million. But this week, DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll and Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Bill Finch admitted the total price tag of the project was actually $8.1 million – over $15,000 per sign and more than four times what was originally stated.    

WATCHING WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
                       
How many families and small businesses would like to simply ignore certain state regulations the way the Cuomo administration ignored federal highway rules? The fate of the signs remains in limbo. Whether or not they stay put or are removed depends on which official you ask. Should federal administrators cut funding to New York State, hard questions will need to be answered.
 
The governor referenced these road signs in his 2014 State of the State Address, but by no means was this ever a major state initiative. Unfortunately, the molehill turned into a mountain, and now these signs represent something entirely different from their intended purpose: government waste and Albany dysfunction.
                                                 
What do you think?  I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.

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