BUFFALO, N.Y. — If you grew up in New York State you undoubtedly drove along the Thruway, and certainly on a Department of Transportation maintained road.
You likely noticed signs that read "State Police aircraft used in speed enforcement" scattered posted along major highways across the state.
But when was the last time the NYS Police conducted an aircraft speed enforcement detail? The answer isn't conclusive.
2 On Your Side submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the New York State Police in December of 2021 seeking aircraft enforcement tickets issued between Jan. 1, 2016, and Dec. 10, 2021.
The New York State Police responded in January of 2022 by stating that they had no records of tickets issued during that time period.
After several follow-ups with officials at the NYSP, the agency revealed that "they hadn't conducted aircraft speed enforcement since the late 1990s."
No records of citations exist because since then the database the NYSP used updated from paper records to digital.
After more follow-ups, NYSP Police checked with their aviation unit and confirmed that none of the pilots have conducted an aircraft speed enforcement detail. The most senior pilot had been with the unit since 2004, and they have never done aircraft speed enforcement.
Yet, over a dozen signs promoting aircraft speed enforcement remain installed along the Thruway and DOT-maintained roads.
A spokesperson for the Thruway Authority told WGRZ that removing the signs remains a "low priority job," and any removal of one of these signs would be done if there was a larger project in the area.
The Thruway Authority also said that because of the size of the signs, lane closures would be necessary as well as several maintenance workers and trucks would be needed.
2 On Your Side asked the Thruway Authority how much removing a single sign would cost, and were told that's not how the authority calculates projects. Though, it would be logical to presume that lane closures, multiple crews, trucks, and other resources could total in the thousands of dollars to remove one sign.
The Thruway Authority spokesperson said by lumping the removal of these signs with larger projects results in "cost savings for toll payers."
The Department of Transportation had a little more concrete information for WGRZ. While they didn't have budget estimates for removing the signs, a spokesperson did say the department is in the process of removing them.
There are 8 aircraft enforcement signs remaining on the Thruway and an additional 8 on DOT-maintained roads. The closest one to Buffalo is on I-490 as you venture off the Le Roy of the Thruway.
Former commander Frank Coots was a 33-year veteran of the NYSP. He says he never assigned an aviation unit for aircraft enforcement detail while he was the commander of Troop D in central New York, but he was familiar with the resources involved.
"It became very expensive, very expensive, as you can imagine," Coot said. "Just the equipment being used for aviation, the helicopter or the fixed wing, it really became quite expensive."
Additionally, the advent of laser speed enforcement allowed troopers to post up along the road from hundreds of yards away and obtain accurate speed information from drivers.
There are legal questions raised by the signs remaining along New York State Roads. WGRZ tried to find legal experts at the University at Buffalo and Cornell Law departments. Both institutions talked to several staff members who weren't able to go on the record because it's a seemingly legal grey area without a conclusion. 2 On Your Side also reached out to several local attorneys in WNY, some specializing in traffic law, and no one knew if the state was violating any laws by posting misleading signs.
One attorney told WGRZ that it may not be misleading because, they believed in theory, the NYSP could resume aircraft speed enforcement.
A state police spokesperson told WGRZ that the equipment used to measure speed in aircraft used by the agency was removed. Thus, the NYSP doesn't have the capability to conduct aircraft enforcement anymore.
"It does offer a deterrent effect," Coots said in regards to the signs remaining along roadways.
Coots said that the state should explore removing them sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than to be upfront with New Yorkers.
"I think the state of New York has a responsibility to be transparent and to be honest with its taxpayers," Coots said. "Maybe that is one of those things that they should at least consider engaging in some type of long-term plan to remove those signs if they're no longer needed."