ALBANY - The blue I Love NY signs lining New York's highways likely won't be coming down by the summer after all.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration had pledged to remove and replace the controversial signs by the summer tourism season after the Federal Highway Administration docked the state $14 million because the signage doesn't comply with federal and state rules.
But the state and federal governments remain locked in a stalemate on the replacement signs, so the current I Love NY signs remain up — and could stay up into the fall.
The state has until Sept. 30 to take the signs down and get the $14 million back, according to the FHWA.
"Out of respect for the ongoing process we are not in a position to comment on the content or timeline of those discussions," state DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said in a statement Tuesday.
"However we fully expect to have a mutually beneficial agreement in place well before the September deadline.”
The battle over the 514 I Love NY signs along highways across the state dates back to 2013, when the FHWA denied the state's request to erect an early version of the signage.
Cuomo's administration did it anyway the next year, leading the federal administration to send letters telling the state that the signage doesn't comply with federal law, state law and a key federal manual that lays out what can and cannot be placed along highways.
The signs don't contain any sort of navigational information for drivers, which is a key requirement for that type of signage.
The bickering over the signage — which contain the logos of the state's tourism programs, such as Taste NY — continued as Cuomo's administration used emergency contracts and paid overtime costs to dramatically expand it in 2016, placing groups of five signs in rapid succession along the Thruway and other key highways.
In all, the state says it spent $8.1 million to print and erect the signage, which works out to an average of about $15,000 per sign.
But that hasn't been the only cost to the state.
Unable to reach a resolution on their dispute, the FHWA withheld $14 million in federal highway funding from New York in February 2018, giving the state until Sept. 30 to take the signs down or lose the funding permanently.
New campaign elusive
In February, state Acting Transportation Commissioner Paul Karas and Thruway Executive Director Matthew Driscoll pledged to take down the signs by the summer tourism season and replace them with a new advertising campaign: "NY has it all!"
That hasn't happened yet — and it won't as long as the FHWA and state remain deadlocked in negotiations.
The state is seeking federal approval to experiment with the new signs, which would allow the highway rules to be bent for a specific period of time.
Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the FHWA, declined to comment when asked when the state may take down the current I Love NY signs, referring that question to the state.
Neither the state nor the federal administration shed much light on the current state of negotiations.
"We look forward to working with NYSDOT to ensure New York’s signage complies with safety standards required to qualify for federal funding," he said in a statement Wednesday.