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Feds say ‘I Love N.Y.’ signs have to go

I Love NY Sign Orient

Residents of Southold and East Hampton towns aren’t the only ones that didn’t like New York State’s “I Love N.Y.” tourism signs posted last summer. 

The Federal Highway Administration is demanding that the state either take all 514 of them down — including signs on the North Fork — or make them come into compliance with federal regulations.

“If it becomes clear that it is not going to happen, we will make a determination about the penalty,” said FHA spokesman Neil Gaffney. “It could be a range of things, from withholding federal approval for projects to withholding highway funding.”

The state spent $1.775 million on the signs last summer, according to state officials.

East End officials complained about the size of the signs last summer, specifically for the sign in Orient Point near Cross Sound Ferry. The FHA’s complaint has to do with the amount of information in the signs.

“Basically, any sign on a road needs to really be directing folks along the way,” Mr. Gaffney said. “Traffic, safety, that sort of thing. It’s not so much tourism related. Basically, you need signs that are simple and easy to understand within a matter of seconds.”

The I Love NY signs generally have three or four smaller boxes that have messages promoting state initiatives like “I Love NY,”

“Path Through History,” or “Taste NY,” with the words “attractions,” “history” and “eat and drink” under them.

The signs also include the IloveNY.com web site address, a reference to the “I Love NY” smart phone app, and the words

“Experience. Explore. Enjoy” in bigger letters near the top of the sign.

The FHA feels that’s too much information for motorists to take in.

“Signs should be telling things like there’s a rest area ahead of a fuel stop, or a traffic interchange,” Mr. Gaffney said. “Every sign out there should be directing people in terms of traffic and making sure they are aware of where they need to be. Tourism signs don’t help.”

Residents in Orient and Southold Town objected to the signs that went up last June. Orient Association president Robert Hanlon said at the time that the signs were “out of scale” and “out of proportion with the community.”

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said last summer that they were too big and didn’t fit the guidelines of the town’s local waterfront plan, which was approved by the state.

The state eventually took down the large sign in Orient and replaced it with a smaller version.

Residents and officials in Montauk and East Hampton Town had similar objections to the signs along the roads leading the Montauk Lighthouse, and the state replaced those signs as well.

Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said they hope to work out their disagreements with the FHA.

“This issue has been discussed for years and involves the interpretation of rules for directional signage versus informational signage, and whether or not an email address can be posted,” he wrote in an email. “This isn’t high crime, but minor disagreements that we look forward to meeting with the feds in order to resolve. The I Love NY tourism program is highly successful and a big economic driver.”

The signs were part of an overall $50 million tourism campaign announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo a year ago.

It called for $25 million in tourism marketing featuring the I Love NY, Path Through History and Taste NY initiatives, featuring advertisements on TV and at airports, on roads, on railways and on the internet.

“Tourism is a major driver of New York’s economy and these signs are part of a multi-pronged effort that has helped increase tourism across this state,” Empire State Development spokesman Adam Ostrowski wrote in an email.

FHA Administrator Greg Nadeau will meet with DOT Commissioner Matt Driscoll next month in Washington to discuss how these signs violate national standards and to come up with a plan to bring the state into compliance, Mr. Gaffney said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Russell had a different concern when reached for comment this week.

“I was unaware of the federal government’s authority to regulate a state-owned road,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the signs, which I have made known in the past. However, I’m not a fan of a federal bureaucracy taking such a heavy-handed approach to impose regulations based on authority they may or may not have. Perhaps they should focus on more important issues like walking down the block to the FAA building and demanding that they start listening to the East End.”

Caption: The ‘I Love N.Y.’ sign at Orient Point. (Credit: Paul Squire)

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