Bet you didn't know that Times Square was a highway!
Well, it is! Back in 2012 the state of New York, in order to get its hands onto a boost in the $2 billion or so it receives in federal transportation swag, persuaded Congress to designate certain New York City streets, including the Great White Way where Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersect at Times Square, as part of the National Highway System. After all, even though it takes maybe an hour to get across 42nd Street in a cab, you eventually end up on a road to somewhere, don't you? And so, yes, Times Square is also an "arterial" highway.
But now–oops! The city that never sleeps is losing even more shut-eye over this problem: It seems that in order to qualify for those Federal Highway Administration funds, states must comply with the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which restricts the size of billboards along national highways to 1,200 square feet. And Times Square is all about enormous luminous billboards, some reaching heights of eight stories, that are not only a must-see tourist attraction but a major source of revenue for building owners. And while you might think those iconic Times Square billboards are beautiful, Lady Bird Johnson, who pushed through that Beautification Act during her husband's presidency, deemed highway signage uglier than a Texas cowpie. And so New York now must remove the billboards or get docked about $90 million in DOT swag.
The threatened demoliton of some of Manhattan's most beloved structures has New Yorkers in a tizzy of rationalizations for keeping the federal moolah and the signs:
Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University says the Highway Beautification Act was intended for rural areas, and is being misapplied to New York’s streets.
"I remember when the Beautification Act passed, Ladybird Johnson never wanted to touch the streets of New York, it was for rural America,” Moss told Capital. “This is a gross and heavy-handed effort by the federal government to undermine New York's vibrant street life. This is another example where the federal and state governments should stay out of New York. They have enough to do elsewhere."
An NYU professor is actually a libertarian? Amazing!
According to Capital New York, which broke the story:
“All these billboards, they no longer meet the Highway Beautification Act requirements, and so now we're going to have to go through kind of a complicated process with the state to yank them off because the feds are threatening to take away 10 percent of our money,” [New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly] Trottenberg said.
The D.O.T. is determined to keep the billboards in place. According to D.O.T. officials, the agency is in talks with the New York State Department of Transportation, as well as the city Department of Buildings to determine a way to leave the billboards unchanged, but a solution has yet to be identified.
FHA spokesman Doug Hecox told Fox News that his agency hasn't actually required the billboards to come down:
He said officials have discussed the possibility of removing the national highway system designation from certain roadways, "and FHWA stands ready to act if we receive that request from the state."
But wouldn't that mean, um, fewer FHA subsidy dollars for the state of New York? Oh dear.