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Rest Stop

The front entrance of the new welcome center. Photo from Gov. Cuomo's office.

Despite original resistance from local officials, a rest stop is officially open for business on the Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills between exits 51 and 52 off the eastbound lanes.

The 15,200 square-foot Long Island Welcome Center features restrooms, a Taste NY food market and several information kiosks to inform travelers about local tourism spots. It’s the first rest stop of its kind on the Island.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) and New York State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) shared concerns last year with some of the details in the plan, including its proximity to residential areas, and the communication between local officials and the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

But Stern said he is pleased with the compromises that were made to put residents’ fears at ease.

“I’ve spoken to many area residents who said trucks idling all day and night was an ongoing and unacceptable concern,” the county legislator said in a phone interview.

An aerial view of the new welcome center. Photo from Gov. Cuomo's office
An aerial view of the new welcome center. Photo from Gov. Cuomo’s office

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the residents have been heard. No tractor-trailer or bus parking is allowed at the welcome center, including the service road that supports the facility.

“This is an example of all levels of government working and coming together, which we can now see reflected in the final design of the welcome center,” Stern said. “This is a really important element that was encouraging to the residents.”

Trucks and buses have been redirected to recently renovated New York State Department of Transportation sites at exits 56 and 66.

Stern said the residents are still waiting to see the future of the rest stop and how it will be used, but they found the truck ban encouraging.

Lupinacci agreed the compromise with Dix Hills residents was a step in the right direction.

“I am pleased to learn that the New York State Department of Transportation has considered the concerns of local residents in the Dix Hills Area and compromised on the original plans of the Long Island Welcome Center,” he said in an email. “The welcome center, which has been drastically reduced in size from original blueprints and will not sell any alcoholic beverages, will offer local produce and regional goods to Long Island’s travelers. I will continue to listen to local stakeholders and welcome feedback from Dix Hills residents during the first few months of the welcome center’s operation.”

Cuomo said the welcome center is an important asset in encouraging tourism throughout New York.

“Tourism and agriculture are critical drivers of the Long Island economy and with the new welcome center, we are making smart investments to support these industries throughout the region,” he said in a statement. “With a Taste NY store to raise the profile of Long Island’s quality food and craft beverages, and interactive I Love NY kiosks to engage visitors and connect them with Long Island’s rich history and boundless recreational opportunities, this state-of-the-art center represents the very best that Long Island has to offer.”

A view of the kiosks available for visitors to use at the center. Photo from Gov. Cuomo's office
A view of the kiosks available for visitors to use at the center. Photo from Gov. Cuomo’s office

The Taste NY Market will showcase a broad selection of fresh breakfast and lunch items, including soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts using ingredients sourced from Long Island growers, along with grab-and-go snacks and specialty local items for sale.

The welcome center will also be home to an outdoor farmers market open on Saturdays and Sundays through the season that will provide locally grown and produced foods to visitors.

As for the touch-screen I Love NY kiosks, they provide travelers the opportunity to learn more about the Long Island tourism region. An interactive map provides suggested destinations based on users’ interests, allowing them to browse regional attractions from historical sites to local wineries, and create an itinerary which they can take with them via email.

A Department of Motor Vehicles self-service kiosk will also be available for use, making it the first time a kiosk will be permanently located outside of a DMV office. Customers will have the opportunity to renew their vehicle registrations quickly and efficiently, as well as conduct other DMV transactions without having to visit a local office.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said the new welcome center will help Huntington’s economy continue to grow.

“From world-class food to pristine beaches and beautiful parks, Long Island has long been a top destination for tourists,” Petrone said in a statement. “This new welcome center will play an important role in growing our economy by showcasing many of Long Island’s products and natural beauty to the thousands of travelers on the Long Island Expressway every day.”

File photo

Local politicians and Huntington Town residents have successfully lobbied the state Department of Transportation to halt construction of a rest stop on exit 51 of the Long Island Expressway.

Individuals were up in arms over the proposal, and lawmakers expressed their dissatisfaction about the plans. Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said it’s an unacceptable location for a rest stop and said the rest stop itself is unnecessary.

“It backs a residential area,” Stern said in a phone interview. “Unlike other rest stops or centers, where they carry on commercial activity, on the LIE, here all the exits are about a mile apart. There is an ample supply of restaurants, shopping centers and restrooms at every exit, so there is no need for a separate rest stop at this location.”

Stern said the plan calls for featuring the state’s Taste NY program, designed to promote New York’s agriculture vendors. This particular Taste NY would serve as a gateway for Long Island wine country out east, according to Stern.

“This exit is a long way from being a gateway to the East End,” Stern said about why this exit choice doesn’t make sense to promote Taste NY.

According to Stern, Suffolk County has made an offer to work with New York State to create a Taste NY location off exit 67 in Yaphank, which Stern said is a more appropriate location.

Gary Holmes, director of communications for the state’s Department of Transportation, said no work is currently being done at exit 51.

“The commissioner has held several productive meetings with local and state officials on Long Island, and while no decisions have been made about the rest stop at exit 51, we look forward to continued conversations about the health and safety of all users of the LIE,” Holmes said in an email. “LIE motorists deserve a safe place to rest and we’ll keep working on the best way to do that.”

Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) said the rest stop should not be added, and that she started fighting plans for it 15 years ago.

“I led the charge against this rest stop when I was vice president of the House Beautiful Dix Hills Civic Association,” Berland said in a phone interview. “I have always been opposed to this.”

She also said the Taste NY aspect is inappropriate, and that the state should not be selling alcohol on an expressway: “The last thing you want to do is give people the opportunity to get alcohol there.”

Berland said the rest stop is too close to a residential community, and the construction the state’s done so far was done without permission. She said residents are already being impacted by the sound of the LIE because brush berms have been removed.

Assemblyman Chad A. Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) agreed that the rest stop is disruptive to residential life near exit 51.

“The location is poor because of the noise and the secondary effects it will have to the area and the residents,” Lupinacci said in a phone interview. “I am totally against it.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) agreed with his colleagues that the rest stop should not go up, and that the voices of Huntington are not being heard.

“It doesn’t sound like the Town of Huntington was involved in this decision,” Spencer said in a phone interview. “I always think coordination and communication with the community is key.”