By Jano Tantongco
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll said last week that the department is moving forward with controversial plans to build a Taste NY Long Island Welcome Center rest stop between Exit 51 and Exit 52 of the Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills.
The proposed 15,200-square-foot rest stop would include 135 parking spaces for cars, restrooms, better lighting, 24/7 video monitoring and on-site police presence. The recently proposed structure is bigger in size than that of the 9,000-square-foot structure that was detailed on the state DOT website last year.
State DOT Director of Communications Gary Holmes said the police presence would be round-the-clock, with substations for both Suffolk County Police Department and New York State Police.
Holmes said in an interview Monday that “it improves safety first and foremost, for the area. It’s poorly lit, there are no restrooms. The welcome center addresses those areas.”
Trucks would also not be permitted to park at the rest stop, Holmes said.
In its current state as a “text stop,” the site can accommodate up to 27 trucks, but there are no markers or designated spots so trucks often spill out onto the shoulder creating safety concerns for both truckers and other motorists, Holmes said.
“We’re working to identify a more appropriate area for truckers along the Long Island Expressway,” he said.
The proposed rest stop has drawn intense scrutiny from the local community, including elected officials and civic leaders.
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 backlash and negative critique from the community, the state DOT withdrew its initial plan, which called for a 9,000 square-foot building with dining, restrooms and 200 parking spaces.
Recent backlash has come in the form of a Change.org petition created March 24 in opposition of the proposed rest area, which had generated 539 signatures as of deadline Monday. The petition is available at Change.org/p/say-no-to-the-lie-rest-stop-in-dix-hills.
President of the Sweet Hollow Civic Association Alissa Taff, a critic of the plan, said Monday that she is still against the proposed rest stop since “this is not a good location and the state has not been upfront.”
She added that a 2007 environmental impact study is “too old,” and needs to be revised to account for development to the area.
However, according to a letter addressed to state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), state DOT Commissioner Driscoll stated that the project was fully studied and that a final environmental impact statement, and a state environmental quality review record of decision, was signed on July 20, 2007.
In an interview Monday, Raia said that he, state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) and Driscoll met personally on March 23.
Raia said the state set up meetings with school boards, fire departments and civic leaders, which he wanted to attend, but could not accommodate into his schedule since he is engaged in state budget talks and the meetings were scheduled for before April 1.
“Ideally, it’s the governor’s project. He has the authority to do it right or wrong,” Raia said.
Previously, Raia said plans showed the sale of wine is being considered for the proposed rest stop, which Raia said he is against.
When asked about the proposal, which was not mentioned in Commissioner Driscoll’s release last week, Holmes said the state has not yet determined “what types of products will be featured.” He said the community meetings will help steer whether or not wine would be sold.