July 30, 2018

Thank You, NY Politicians (Not)

This could have been one of those posts highlighting the excellent cooperation between state and federal elected officials, except that this is an election year, the interested parties are in opposite parties, and they're more interested in making political hay than they are in solving problems.

A few years ago, New York's Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo (D - looking at DC) and some of his minions involved in tourism here came up with the idea of adding signage on the NYS Thruway, which happens to be part of the federal interstate highway system. Before the signs were ever installed, the Gov and his team were advised by the feds that the signs were not compliant and would cause a distraction to drivers. Not one on par with, say, cell phones, 6- or 8-inch touch screen control pods, 214 cup holders, GPS systems, screaming children, or even men who refuse to ask for directions and the people who love them - but a distraction nonetheless.

And speaking of nonetheless, the NYS team decided to go ahead and ignore the feds, and put up some 500 signs, usually in sets of three or four, across the state. The NY folks say the signs have been effective in increasing tourism spending, and of course we all know that arguing with the government about the benefits of a pet project is really an exercise in futility, so I won't bother with that.

I will say that I think the signs are kind of dumb. They mean to advertise different things (history, parks, food, and so on), but they all point to the main tourism website; they don't do a whole lot to get people to exit specifically to see something that's nearby; and they're small, so you've got to really be paying attention to figure them out (hence the distraction part.) I mean, a billboard could have accomplished the same thing, with less fuss from the feds, but what do I know?

After the signs were installed, at a cost of $5M or so, and after some warnings, the feds said they had to come down. And if they didn't come down, the state would lose $14M in federal highway funds this year. If they stayed up past the September 30, 2018 deadline, future funds would also be at risk. And, reluctantly, NY agreed to take them down. But wait -- this is NY, after all, and we have the Sonofa Gov--we're not taking them down because we were told to, we're taking them down because this particular tourism campaign is over. So there!

But wait again! We agree to take them down, said NY, but we want to  put up new ones, and we want the feds to tell us what's compliant, and that's gonna take a while, and so we'll miss the deadline but we don't want the fine because we want to play nice in the sandbox and stuff.  And that's exactly the segue we need to the final part of this sad tale of our tax dollars at work.

Several folks in the NY Congressional delegation are Republicans, including John Katko (who was sent to represent me), Claudia Tenney, Elise Stefanik, Tom Reed, John Faso and Chris Collins. And, remember, this is an election year and they're all up for re-election, as is Cuomo. So, with around $14M in highway funds at risk, what's a gaggle of representatives to do? Fire off a nastygram to the governor, the titular head of the other party for their state, of course.

Here's the gist of their message:
  • You're facing a $14M penalty; 
  • a bunch of acronyms are in the mix, at both the state and federal level;
  • you've known for two years that your cutesy little signs are dangerous and illegal;
  • you were warned back in February; and
  • you could be hurting the state if you don't stop messing around.
And then, a question:
As we are nearing the end of the federal fiscal year and the September 30 deadline, what steps have been undertaken by your Administration to prevent the permanent loss of these critical funds? Are both NYSDOT and NYSTA working with FHWA towards a resolution?
And then - without even giving the Gov a chance to answer - this:
We urge you to direct NYSDOT and NYSTA to follow the law and not jeopardize the loss of badly needed federal funds for our highway and bridge repair programs. 
Oh, for Pete's sake.

Of course Cuomo was wrong to order the signs put up; of course he was wrong not to listen to the repeated warnings that they were out of compliance, and of course he shouldn't have promised to take them down if he wasn't actually going to do just that.

But these six goofballs, chests all puffed out and ready for thumping, over a pile of money that'll barely pave 15 miles of road? No offer of helping with the negotiations, which they must know about; no offer of trying to get the feds to back off on the distracted driving issue (I'd maintain listening to the president on the radio would be significantly more dangerous, but maybe that's just me); and no mention of leveraging this state/federal cooperation to try and get us more desperately needed infrastructure funding?

Gee, thanks.

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