State Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll came to Long Island Wednesday to try to calm anger stirred by unannounced plans to expand the eastbound rest stop between exits 51 and 52 on the Long Island Expressway.
Assemb. Andy Raia (R-East Northport) said that after a "spirited dialogue" with Driscoll, he still was upset and had questions about how the project reached groundbreaking without input from residents and local leaders.
"It was more them listening to us and what our concerns were than any concrete action plan on their part," he said of one of two meetings Driscoll held with local elected officials.
Following public outcry, the DOT has withdrawn a bid proposal for the project.
In an email statement, Driscoll said he "had very productive meetings today with local and state officials . . . and while no decisions were made, I look forward to continued conversations about the health and safety of all users of the LIE. I think we can all agree that LIE motorists deserve a safe place to rest and we'll keep working on the best way to do that."
Local officials were outraged last week when they learned from constituents that trees were being cleared at a text stop frequented by truckers. Officials later learned the state DOT had put out a construction bid to build a 9,000-square-foot facility with 200 parking spaces and parking for four buses, without them being notified.
Driscoll met Wednesday morning at Huntington Town Hall with Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone and town board member Susan Berland. In the afternoon, he met at the office of state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) with Marcellino, Raia, Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington) and two representatives from the office of State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).
Petrone said Driscoll promised to examine other sites and improve the process of approving such a project. "We told them placing a rest stop at [exits] 51-52 is a problem," Petrone said. "We suggested an alternative at Exit 49 [in Huntington], where there is room and it should be considered."
Stern said their meeting focused on how they plan to go about approving a rest-stop expansion. He suggested the state go back to its original plan at Exit 67. "The proposal was to have it sited in Yaphank, which is a more appropriate gateway to the East if the idea is to promote economic development . . . and the wineries of the East End," he said.
He added that Driscoll was clear the process was suspended and that the DOT head will look at all options. "But I don't know where on that list the present site is," Stern said.
Raia said he believes if the state proceeds with the current plan, local officials will pursue a legal challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose administration changed the plan to expand Exit 67 and moved things to Exits 51-52.
"Obviously the governor . . . wants it there, or I should say the executive branch, but yet you've got a long-standing history of residents who have been fighting this for numerous reasons."