The state Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration will try to work out their differences over the state’s promotion of tourism on new signs along interstate highways.
The sides met Tuesday in Washington and agreed to form a “working group” on the sign issue, according to a joint statement released by spokesmen for both agencies. They described a “constructive conversation.”
“We agreed to form a working group on the sign issue to identify a strategy that explores opportunities to achieve New York’s objectives of continuing to promote tourism in a manner consistent with federal legal requirements,” the statement said. “We will continue these conversations with the aim to resolve any outstanding compliance issues.”
The statement appeared to head off for now a confrontation over the signs that could have resulted in the state losing some of its federal highway funding.
The meeting included state Transportation Commission Matthew T. Driscoll and Federal Highway Administration Administrator Greg Nadeau.
The Federal Highway Administration contends that the signs don’t comply with federal laws intended to standardize and limit the number of signs on interstate highways, creating a potential to distract drivers and create a safety concern.
Despite federal concerns expressed as early as 2011, the state has gone ahead with installing them at dozens of locations, including along the Northway and state Thruway in the Capital Region. Following installations done this year, there are now 514 signs around the state.
The signs typically are being clustered in groups of five, promoting the “I Love New York” theme and promoting the state’s “Taste New York” local food program, state parks, and local history destinations.
While federal officials said they violate the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, state officials have consistently maintained that they don’t.
“These tourism signs are non-traffic control devices and it is our opinion that they are permissible and do not require FHWA approval. We believed then and still believe now that our interpretation is consistent with federal guidelines,” state DOT spokesman Gary Holmes said last week.
Federal officials also expressed concerns about over-the-counter cash sales the state is allowing at an interstate highway system rest area on Long Island, according to the joint statement.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.