NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — You can call it a bureaucratic blunder … or a Washington blooper.
But any way you slice it a move by the federal government to make the city remove Times Square’s iconic billboards falls in the category of “whose bright idea is this?”
It is known as the “Crossroads of the World,” the “Center of the Universe” and “the Great White Way,” but Times Square could become like the “Black Hole of Calcutta” if the federal government has its way, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday.
The feds say many of Times Square’s huge and neon-lit billboards must come down or the city will lose about $90 million in federal highway money.
“We’re going to let outsiders who sit in a cramped room and have nothing to do with our city as far as partaking in it on an everyday basis change something that means something to the whole entire world? That makes total sense, just like everything else the federal government does,” said Keith Watson of Flushing.
The edict comes from a 2012 law that makes Times Square an arterial route to the national highway system. And that puts it under the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which limits signs to 1,200 square feet. It took the feds until now to realize that Times Square was included, Kramer reported.
“I love the signs. I think they’re just fantastic and they’re a part of New York. It would be really, really bad for New York if they were down,” Midtown resident Fran Weisfeld said.
New York residents and tourists alike say highway beautification shouldn’t apply to Times Square, where the innovative, in-your-face billboards personify New York City, itself.
City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg agrees.
“The signs in Times Square are wonderful. They’re iconic. They’re not only a global tourist attraction, they’re important to the economy,” Trottenberg said.
She said she’s not going to let it happen.
“We’re not going to be taking down the billboards in Times Square. We’re going to work with the federal government and the state and find a solution,” Trottenberg said.
There are some who say that if the feds really wanted to beautify Times Square they might try getting rid of some of the Elmos, Kramer reported.
Among the options the city is considering is to attempt to get an exemption from the federal government, Kramer reported.