A construction bid to turn the eastbound rest stop between Exits 51 and 52 on the Long Island Expressway into a major rest area has been pulled, after outrage from Huntington officials and residents.
The state Department of Transportation issued the bid Aug. 11, and it was due back Sept. 3. DOT spokesman Gary Holmes said Tuesday the bid proposal was withdrawn Thursday from the state's contract reporter website, which lists bid opportunities.
"DOT's goal is safety and security for residents and visitors at that location and to modernize it, but we are still having conversations and reviewing ideas on how best to do that," he said.
Angry local, state and town leaders said they had not been consulted and learned of plans to build a 9,000-square-foot facility with 200 parking spaces and parking for four buses last week, after residents called to ask why trees were being cut down. The site is now a narrow "text stop" heavily used by resting truckers.
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said he had a "very direct" meeting with DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll last week in Albany to convey his thoughts on placing the rest stop in his district.
"I unequivocally expressed my concerns and frustrations," Flanagan said. "I have major concerns about the process, about the fact that this property was cleared, in my opinion, inappropriately and improperly."
Huntington Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said he is glad the DOT pulled back the bid. "All of the elected officials who represent the area made our feelings known about what transpired and the type of rest stop that had been proposed, and we are gratified that the state listened," he said in an email.
The Suffolk County Legislature in May budgeted $1.6 million for a new Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Yaphank, hoping to pair its building with a Taste of New York store at Exit 67 on the LIE.
But Vito A. Minei, executive director of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead, said last week Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's representative told him about a month ago that Cuomo had decided to move the upgraded rest stop to the Exit 51 rest area.
"I want to know time and place on everything," Flanagan said. "When this started, who was involved, who's doing the work, who's been paid, who gave the authority; all questions that people would expect to ask and no one should be shy about answering."
He said he and other local elected officials expect to meet with DOT officials again very soon. "I have a ton of questions that I want answered so I can go back to the people I represent and say here are the straightforward, very direct facts," he said.
Huntington Town board member Susan Berland said she wants in on the dialogue. "I am looking forward to meeting with state DOT representatives and to work together to do what we can to build a rest stop at Exit 67," she said.