Gov. Andrew Cuomo was disturbed by the “terrible” things he saw while being stranded for hours at the Long Island Expressway Exit 51 rest stop before he became governor, he recently told local officials.

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While giving a speech at the Long Island Association in Melville last week, the governor recalled how he spent the time waiting for a tow truck at the Dix Hills rest area on a Friday night after a classic used car that he had bought broke down while he was driving it from New York City to a mechanic in Southampton.

“It was like being in some movie of Land of The Lost, where you saw things that you were not supposed to see in life,” Cuomo said. “I mean, you would have liked to have lived your whole life and not had seen these things or experienced them, because then you can’t get them out of your mind once you’ve seen them. I mean it was terrible.”

He used the word “terrible” four times to describe the experience. He also called it “a nightmare from hell.”

Cuomo was vague about exactly what he witnessed, allowing the audience to use their imaginations to conjure up the details.

“The criminal activity that went on in the open,” he said. “The total lack of services. The truckers who are staying there wind up being very creative in their finding uses for the functions that they need to fulfill. I’m telling you there was prostitution there. There were drug sales there, because I saw it, and I mean I was there.”

Cuomo retold the story to explain the inspiration behind his plan to build a 15,200-square-foot, more secure Welcome Center, which would sell New York State-made food and beverages to promote tourism on LI. The project is one of several local state-funded infrastructure projects that he’s been promoting recently.

Once the new Welcome Center opens on the eastbound side of the LIE in October, the rest stop would no longer allow tractor trailer or bus parking. Since the old rest area was cleared to make way for construction, trucks and buses have begun parking at Exit 66 on the eastbound side of the LIE. Those vehicles will later use Exit 56 on the westbound side. The new truck stop has portable restrooms.

He credited his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, for originally proposing a Welcome Center for the rest area. But it was the son’s night watching “terrible” things occur at the LIE rest stop that spurred him to finish the job.

“It is one of these bizarre situations where you say, ‘Anyone with commonsense would have done something about this, and why would we allow this to continue?’” Cuomo said. “So I become governor, and I say at Exit 51–the LIE is a state road–why do we allow that? It’s always a long story, by the way. There are no short stories in government…”

Indeed. Cuomo spent about a third of his 2,618-word speech discussing his experience at the rest stop and his plans on how to clean it up–and make the new center less “terrible” and more welcoming.

Artist's rendering of the Long Island Expressway Welcome Center. Courtesy New York State Governor's Office
Artist’s rendering of the Long Island Expressway Welcome Center. Courtesy New York State Governor’s Office
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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.