Over-the-counter sales at the state’s Welcome Center off the Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills have been switched to self-checkout kiosks as ordered by the Federal Highway Administration, state officials said Wednesday.
Federal officials had given the state Department of Transportation-operated facility a March deadline for the switch, saying the Taste NY store, which opened in October, had been operating in violation of a 1956 federal law that bans over-the-counter sales at rest areas on interstate highways.
The state had faced cuts in federal funding if it failed to convert to self-checkout kiosks.
A worker there said Wednesday that the switch-over happened March 1 but the switch-over date was not immediately available from DOT officials. A spokesman from the Federal Highway Administration was not immediately available for comment.
The $20.2 million store between eastbound Exits 51 and 52 sells New York-produced foods and beverages to promote agricultural tourism. The only facilities on New York interstates allowed to have over-the-counter sales since the 1956 law was passed are grandfathered-in restaurants and travel stores along the New York State Thruway.
In a Jan. 19 letter from Federal Highway Administration division administrator Peter Osborn to DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll that made reference to the state’s other Taste NY store in upstate Broome County violating the same law, Osborn warned that the over-the-counter sales must cease within 60 days of receipt of the letter to avoid sanctions.
Osborn said the sanctions included withholding some of the $1 billion the state receives annually for bridge and highway projects and holding back project approvals.
Driscoll answered by saying he understood the federal agency’s concerns and would comply.
DOT spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer said Wednesday in an emailed response, “The kiosks are in on LI. They are being installed this week in Broome County.”
In answer to a question about whether the offerings at the center would be any different, Portzer said, “Everything else remains the same — the only difference is how you pay.”
In the statement Portzer said the Taste NY program “continues to be an overwhelming success.”
“With the installation of these self-checkout kiosks, we are pleased that Taste NY stores will continue to expose New Yorkers and visitors alike to the world-class products made in the Empire State,” Portzer said.
In response to the switch-over, Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox said in an emailed statement sent Wednesday that the DOT “has done a good job” in adapting its sales method at the two Welcome Center locations.
David H. Fialkov, vice president of government affairs for NATSO, an Alexandria, Virginia-based trade organization for the country’s travel centers, said the over-the-counter regulations date back to the creation of the national highway system. He said Congress and community leaders were concerned that towns and businesses off the highway would suffer as motorists bypassed them so the sale of commercial services such as food and fuel at highway rest areas was prohibited except for quick vending machine purchases.