By Carl Corry
Awakening the furor of local residents and elected officials long been opposed to expanding the eastbound Long Island Expressway rest area in Dix Hills, the state Department of Transportation bulldozed a large wooded area behind the rest stop over the past several days as part of a little-known plan for the location that would include a 9,000-square-foot building with dining and restrooms and 200 parking spaces.
Local and state officials said they started getting calls from constituents as early as Tuesday about the tree removals, though they were not aware of any plans to make changes to the rest area.
“They pretty much clear-cut the majority of the property and decimated it,” said Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland, who visited the area today and was among those who opposed previous efforts to expand the rest area when she was vice president of the House Beautiful Civic Association more than a decade ago. “I can only hope we got them to come up with a reconstruction project and replace the trees that they destroyed.”
Work stopped on the project this afternoon following a face-to-face meeting between state Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan – whose district encompasses the rest area — and state DOT Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll, on top of numerous complaints lodged by other local and state officials to the DOT and to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I expressed my reservations and concerns very directly and very succinctly,” Flanagan said of his meeting with Driscoll. “The commissioner was extraordinarily gracious. The work has clearly ceased as a result of those conversations.”
Plans to expand the area more than a decade ago met with stiff opposition from the community over concerns about pollution and crime, among other factors.
“If anything, the reasons against it are stronger,” Berland said.
“It is the wrong place,” added state Assemblyman Andrew Raia. “First off, to have a full-blown rest stop on the expressway is not needed. You’ve got plenty of places for people to patronize local businesses.”
As it is in the community near the rest area, you “can’t fit in somebody’s backyard because fumes from idling vehicles overcome you,” Raia said.
According to information posted to the state DOT’s website before it was apparently taken down this afternoon, the project was slated to be completed by Aug. 15, 2016.
A “pre-bid meeting” was held with potential bidders on Aug. 13.
In addition to the building, which would house a Taste NY store, the rest stop would have four bus spaces.
All officials contacted for this story said they were under the impression the Taste NY rest area was supposed to be built at Exit 67 of the LIE, close to the Cornell Cooperative Extension Farm and nearer to locally produced products from farms and vineyards.
Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone, said that, as of now, the rest area expansion for the Dix Hills site has been put to a halt.
“That’s my expectation. But we’re monitoring that.”