State Department of Transportation officials will ban tractor trailers and buses at a Welcome Center rest stop planned for the eastbound LIE near Exit 51 in exchange for the community agreeing not to sue or impede sewer and water district approvals for the $20.2 million project.
The center is to include a 15,200-square-foot “low slung” LEED certified building with lighted parking for 135 vehicles, round-the-clock access to 30 toilets and vending machines, continuous video monitoring and on-site law enforcement.
The building will also include a Taste New York food store and a multipurpose room, DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll said Thursday.
“The governor is very focused on the Taste Welcome Centers that support and enhance a region’s economic activity,” Driscoll said. “We’ve tried to address many of the concerns of residents and I think we have.”
Driscoll cited Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), whose district includes the rest stop, for working with his office and the community to come to an agreement and avoid a lawsuit that some community members had considered.
Local officials in August demanded the state reconsider plans to build a 9,000-square-foot facility with 200 parking spaces. Those officials said they had not been notified about plans to upgrade the rest area to a major stop for motorists until after residents complained about tree removal work at the site.
“We don’t believe, based on this agreement, that a lawsuit will happen,” Driscoll said. “And candidly I have been assured that the folks that have the resources won’t and I’m going to take them at their word.”
Raia said he believes the agreement is “decent” because the community was focused on banning trucks.
“The residents that I have spoken to that are most directly impacted are happy with the fact the trucks are being moved out of their backyards,” he said.
Truck and bus parking will also be banned from the service road that supports the Welcome Center. Those vehicles will be directed to the DOT maintenance facility at Exit 56 on the westbound side of the Long Island Expressway. The existing rest area on the westbound side between Exits 51 and 52 will be permanently closed once work is completed at the Exit 56 maintenance facility where there is room to park 27 trucks, Driscoll said.
Sheila Saks, past president of the House Beautiful Civic Association in Dix Hills, said she was concerned about giving up the right to sue, particularly if the state ultimately lets trucks and buses park at the site because of federal requirements.
“Are we then not allowed to litigate? To me there are still too many unknowns that have not been detailed and specified to us about the plan,” she said.
Freeport-based Peter Scalamandre and Sons was chosen to build the rest stop; work is to begin Monday. The facility is scheduled to open around Oct. 1.
“This by far is a much better situation for the residents with the trucks gone,” Huntington Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said. “It’s also an improvement to the quality of life and air quality.”