The new Long Island Welcome Center, on the eastbound Long...

The new Long Island Welcome Center, on the eastbound Long Island Expressway between Exits 51 and 52 in Dix Hills, opened on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevs

The new multimillion-dollar rest stop on the eastbound Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills violates federal law by conducting over-the-counter sales, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration has said.

The $20.2 million Long Island Welcome Center, between Exits 51 and 52, sells locally produced foods and beverages to visitors in the Taste NY food store as part of a campaign to promote tourism in New York State. It opened in October.

Neil Gaffney, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, said “federal law allows states to place vending machines in rest and recreation areas along Interstates for the comfort and safety of drivers and passengers, but prohibits over-the-counter sales in these areas. If over-the-counter sales are taking place at a NYSDOT Welcome Center rest area, we intend to work with New York in order to bring the state into compliance.”

Officials with the state Department of Transportation said they believe the sales are permitted.

“The Long Island Welcome Center supports tourism, is not a commercial facility and is a key piece of growing New York’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry,” DOT spokesman Gary Holmes said. “We’re engaged in a very active dialogue with [FHA] about these issues, and we’re encouraged that they are seeking input to update this law that is more than 50 years old. We look forward to providing our comments.”

Holmes said he did not have figures on how much money the over-the-counter sales have generated.

The Federal Highway Administration is also at odds with the state over another part of its tourism campaign. Officials allege that the blue “I Love NY” tourism signs on highways throughout the state, including 144 that have been put up on Long Island since June along the LIE, Meadowbrook and Wantagh parkways, at Jones Beach and on some local streets, are advertisements for New York attractions in violation of federal law.

Federal law requires that highway signs provide only directional and other information that helps drivers navigate, Gaffney said.

Both issues will be discussed this week at the Federal Highway Administration’s Washington office when agency Administrator Gregory Nadeau and DOT Commissioner Matt Driscoll meet for the first time.

In both cases, Gaffney said, the Federal Highway Administration is seeking compliance. Regarding the signs, the agency will be looking for the DOT to present a plan for their removal. He did not have specifics about what would happen to the welcome center if the state does not discontinue over-the-counter sales.

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