By Jano Tantongco
Details of a revised state Department of Transportation plan to build a rest stop between exits 51 and 52 on the Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills still have not been discussed with state and county representatives, who instead learned of the changes from their constituents and Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone
Petrone, who met with state DOT officials around three weeks ago, discovered on March 10 that local state and county officials were not briefed on the new plan for the site, which is currently a text stop. He said department officials briefed him on a newly modified plan, mentioning it would involve a smaller building, no food establishments, a police presence and that truckers would be barred from the rest stop.
Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) added that he was told there would be wine sold at a Taste NY store at the rest stop.
State DOT Director of Communications Gary Holmes could not confirm details of the revised plan when asked on Monday.
Instead, a statement was provided, which said, "To ensure the state is receiving an array of input, we've been meeting with stakeholders as we committed to last fall. They've been productive discussions about how we can best ensure the health and safety of all users of the LIE, and we look forward to continuing those conversations in the coming weeks and months.”
Petrone said state DOT officials need to openly communicate their intentions.
“The biggest problem is the unknown for people. They’ve [state DOT] got to resolve this, they’ve got to discuss the plan,” Petrone said. “This is how you build consensus in terms of having a successful process.”
Last year, the state DOT bulldozed the site, removing trees and bushes, to make way for the proposed rest stop without notifying any level of local government nor civic groups, officials said. After a barrage of community pushback, the state DOT withdrew its plan, which originally called for a 9,000 square-foot building with dining, restrooms and 200 parking spaces.
In a letter written by Raia to state DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll, he expressed concern over the proposal to sell wine at the rest stop.
“Why would we possibly entice an individual to buy an alcoholic beverage and then drink it while driving home, or tempt passengers to open alcoholic beverages during their travels to the Eastern Long Island wineries?” Raia stated. “I am deeply offended that I am once again informed about the NYSDOT’s latest proposal via local civic groups and my local Town Supervisor.”
On Monday, Raia said money was appropriated “years ago” in the state budget. Raia said he spoke with Driscoll on Monday and was told that the department is in the process of scheduling meetings with state legislators.
“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Raia said.
Sheila Saks, past president of the House Beautiful Civic Association in Dix Hills, echoed Raia’s concern.
“Why encourage something like alcohol on an interstate highway? It’s something that should be discouraged,” Saks said. “It doesn’t belong in your car on a New York State highway. Not on our highway, not in our community.”
Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-South Huntington) said he learned of the revised plan from his own constituents.
“It’s disturbing... we haven’t heard the details about it,” Lupinacci said. “If you’re going to have a project of this scale, what does the rendering look like? What does the site plan look like?”
He added, “I’ve never heard anyone say it’s a good idea. All I've heard is something negative… traffic, idling trucks.”
Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said he was informed of the revised plan by other local officials.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that New York State would proceed with a proposal again without informing local elected officials,” Stern said. “This disappointment had been clearly expressed to them, not just last time they put forth a proposal, but literally throughout the past 20 plus years.”