By Jano Tantongco
After nearly two decades of controversy, community engagement and subsequent compromise, the Long Island Welcome Center in Dix Hills is nearly complete.
The welcome center now stands on the eastbound side of the Long Island Expressway between exits 51 and 52, but, according to state Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Holmes, a definitive opening date had not been set as of deadline Tuesday.
Holmes said the design of the center, which he called “regionally inspired,” features net buoy decorations on the side of the building and a replica lighthouse.
It's pretty remarkable how quickly it came together,” Holmes said. Construction on the center begun in May, drawing criticism from nearby residents, as published reports have shown.
State Assem. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) has been working with community members to mediate between the state and residents.
One of the complaints often brought up by residents was that the welcome center could bring an influx of trucks to Dix Hills, a concern that Raia said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and the state DOT have committed to address.
“Hopefully [state officials] will live up to their commitment to keep the trucks out,” Raia said Monday, adding that he had not yet seen the near-complete facility, and said his evaluation of the finished project is still “to be determined.”
He said state officials are working to provide alternate places for trucks to park in clearly marked areas.
Trucks can now be parked at designated areas on the westbound side of the LIE near Exit 56, and on the eastbound side near Exit 66, according to Holmes.
“Moving trucks out of the old and inadequate location at 51-52 was in response to community comments,” Holmes said. “However, we recognized early on the need to accommodate safety for all users of the LIE so we created new locations with improved lighting and portable restrooms.”
Allen Fritz, a 46-year resident of Dix Hills, said nearby residents were concerned that fumes emitted by idling trucks would be a health hazard to nearby residents, and would also create noise pollution. With plans being modified to prohibit trucks from parking at the center, Holmes said the state gave residents “back a little something. I support it the way it is now.”
Another issue raised by residents, Raia said, was the state’s proposal to sell and/or sample wine at the center as part of the Taste NY portion of the rest stop. Raia said he has been told this would not occur.
The state DOT spearheaded the project at the cost of $20.22 million, Holmes said previously. The 15,200-square-foot center provides parking for up to 135 vehicles, but none for trucks. Also, the welcome center will feature space for substations of both the Suffolk and New York State police departments.