By Carl Corry
The state Department of Transportation has “temporarily suspended” a plan to build an expanded rest area between exits 51 and 52 in Dix Hills that was slated to include a 9,000-square-foot building with dining and restrooms and 200 parking spaces, according to state Assemblyman Andrew Raia.
Raia (R-Northport) said he spoke with the chief of staff to DOT Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll Monday about the issue, who said the plan was put “on hold.” This comes days after local elected officials were caught off guard when they started getting calls as early as Aug. 18 about trees behind the current “text area” being uprooted.
“They pretty much clear-cut the majority of the property and decimated it,” said Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland.
Local and state elected officials, as well as civic leaders, demanded the state put a halt to the work, noting opposition to expanding the area going back nearly two decades and an understanding that the DOT had planned to build such a rest stop, which would promote local foods and goods, at Exit 67.
By last Thursday, following a flood of calls, meetings and letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Driscoll, the work had stopped.
Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said, “Discussions regarding a Taste NY store on the Long Island Expressway are preliminary, and we look forward to a robust dialogue with our local partners and stakeholders moving forward.”
But that did not much appease local representatives, who hadn’t previously been informed of the plan prior to the bulldozing of a large swath of property.
DOT Spokesperson Gary Holmes weighed in on Friday.
“The Department of Transportation’s primary intention at this location is the safety and security of residents and visitors,” Holmes said. There is currently no work being conducted at the site. We look forward to future conversations on this matter.”
But it wasn’t until Monday that Raia had heard that the DOT is holding off on sending out a request for proposals “until discussion can be had with local elected officials -- and it would be my hope, the local community.”
According to information that has since been taken down from the state DOT’s website, the project was slated to be completed by Aug. 15, 2016.
A “pre-bid meeting” was held with potential bidders on Aug. 13 and bids were going to be accepted starting Sept. 3.
In addition to the building, which would house a Taste NY store, the rest stop would have four bus spaces.
“We’re not negotiating with a gun to our heads,” Raia said, adding that meetings with all affected parties have to be set up. “We’re still trying to work that out with the commissioner,” he said.
Suffolk Legislator Steven Stern (D-Dix Hills), said news that the state was halting plans for the Dix Hills location was “very encouraging.”
“This will now allow the governor and the state DOT to effectively consider other available options.”