Federal Officials Assault Times Square!

When you have a federal transportation bill called MAP-21, you can imagine more than a little ambition on the part of it’s creators. The 2012 bill seems to be saying they’re going to upgrade everything until it’s as 21st century as feasibly possible. And you will comply with whatever that means. The full name is the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act - which has a nice Maoist or Stalinist tone to it. It just needs a 5-Year-Plan attached as a final amendment to make it perfect for a central planner. It’s a funding and authorization bill that takes care of federal surface transportation. And that includes not just highways between cities but apparently any juncture inside a city that is now deemed a vital link to the federal highway system. And that means that Broadway and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan now fall under the purview of that Act. Yes, Times Square is now officially under the purview of a federal highway act.

And that means that Times Square also falls under LBJ's 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which limits the size of billboards bordering highways, or near Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Still with me? So low and behold, Times Square's billboards are now violating a 1965 Highway Act. And they must be reduced in size or federal highway funding for NYC will be cut by 10%. And highways matter in NYC, as much as anywhere. This is being spun as an unintended consequence of MAP-21. And negotiations seem to be going on between NYC officials, and Federal Highway Administration officials who insist they have not been pressuring city officials over the now-illegal billboards. Hopefully this will be settled and soon. But are these unintended consequences? When you classify a downtown Manhattan intersection as being part of the federal highway system, you are saying loud and clear: "this is our turf now folks!" The consequences were perhaps poorly thought out when MAP-21 was put together. But they are not unintentional. You bring the feds in, you bring in a burden of regulation that must be complied with to continue receiving subsidies. And as they know in LBJ's home state, toll roads are not popular. Gas taxes don't go down well either. But highways are expensive to build and must be paid for somehow. So with toll roads facing a backlash and gas taxes having long encountered voter anger, a nice complex maze of federal subsidies can muddy the waters and pay the bills. Until the accompanying regulations inevitably produce an absurdity, but not necessarily an unintentional consequence. Like we now have in Times Square. The billboards will certainly stay with some deal that will be reached. And that deal itself will set in motion a whole other set of negotiations with other municipalities looking to pay for their highways without angering voters. Paying for highways is a tricky business in America.

Posted by Keeley at May 7, 2015 7:08 PM
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