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Cost of highway signs at center of federal-state spat: $8.1M

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Note: This post has been updated to reflect the costs for 140 signs installed along the Thruway.

The cost for hundreds of federally illegal state tourism signs erected along major state highways that have led to a Washington-Albany kerfuffle is $8.1 million, state transportation officials said Wednesday.

DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll said during a joint legislative budget hearing on transportation in Albany that fabrication and material costs for 374 of the I Love NY signage were $3.1 million, and installation cost another $2.3 million.

An additional 140 signs erected along the Thruway cost $2.7 million total, acting Thruway Authority Executive Director Bill Finch later told lawmakers. He said roughly $500,000 was spent on materials.

That brings the total cost of the signs to $8.1 million.

Previous cost estimates for the full signage initiative were just $1.76 million, according to the USA Today Network. Driscoll said the initial estimate was based on costs as of November, but all costs are now in, allowing for the current calculation.

Those numbers provide a fuller picture of the cost to the state so far of the controversial signs, which appear in rapid succession of five (a “motherboard” followed by four individual signs complete with app and website information) along major state roadways and promote tourism.

While DOT is not erecting additional signs, questions remain about what comes next — and what costs come next — for those promotional efforts.

The USA Today Network broke the story in November that the 514 highway signs statewide run afoul of federal law that regulates what can be displayed on major roadways. Federal officials had been warning the state for three years that the signs violated standards, but the state contended the signs are perfectly legal.

Driscoll said federal officials take issue with font size, lettering and other aspects of the signs.

Now, the state and feds are in talks over what comes next, though Driscoll denied reports that the signs will be coming down soon.

“We continue to speak with federal highway, we’re having good conversations as you know,” Driscoll told reporters. “We’ve entered into a work group with federal Highway staff along with New York State DOT staff and we’re working through signs with them.”

Driscoll said the discussions include potential changes to the existing signs and what the costs of those changes could be.

The commissioner continued to defend the signs as supporting the state’s tourism industry. He said web traffic was up 100,000 hits after the signs were installed.

The signs are just one aspect of the friction between state and federal highway officials. The USA Today Network reported Tuesday that the state will use self-checkout kiosks at two rest-area Taste NY stores in Broome County and on Long Island after the federal government threatened to sanction the state if it did not stop over-the-counter sales. The state plans such rest-stop shops in the 10 regions of the state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration defines for a number of programs.

Driscoll said DOT, which manages the Broome County rest-area shop, was actually thrilled that federal officials will allow the self-checkout kiosks.

But federal officials have mandated that the self-checkout capabilities are allowed only at the two currently operational rest-stop stores. What will go in at the others planned for highways is unclear.

“We’ll continue to work towards design,” Driscoll said. “But I won’t speculate on what the outcome is. That will be part of the conversation moving forward.”

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