The government’s next mission: Ruining Times Square

You don’t have to live or work in New York City to have an opinion about Times Square. That space in Manhattan between 47th and 42nd streets where Broadway intersects 7th Avenue has been the subject of scorn and mockery, of praise and wonderment, for well over a century. Times Square has been scoffed at by New Yorkers following Rudy Giuliani’s reforms as a plastic, Disney-fied tourist trap. Even if they avoid it for the swarming pedestrians, New Yorkers would also candidly concede that they’re happy to no longer have to avoid it out of concern for bodily safety.

If the federal government had its way, Times Square would more closely resemble Red Square in the coming years. According to a report in a local CBS affiliate, flagged by The Blaze host Amy Holmes, that iconic stretch of city is covered by the 1965 Highway Beautification Act following a 2012 congressional edict. That means that the Square is going to be compelled to remove all of its massive, illuminated billboards.

“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,” CBS 2 reported. Reporter Marcia Kramer indicated that not even the federal government was aware that the act covered Times Square until recently.

The story inspired eye-rolling on the part of New York City residents who thought the idea that the federal government would dare remove the very features of Times Square that make it recognizable was a perfect waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Apparently, the city intends to fight this order.

“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.

This feels like a strikingly familiar trial balloon sent up by a regulatory agency to test the parameters of their intrusive authority. If the outcry is large enough, as this latest has been, they back down. If only a handful express dissatisfaction with the proposed action, then it moves forward. And with that, that agency’s authority expands irreversibly.

It seems highly unlikely that the Square’s landmark billboards will be removed in the name of “beautification,” but it speaks volumes about the government’s priorities that it was even an option.