Self-checkout kiosks will replace cashiers at the new Long Island Expressway rest stop store in Dix Hills to resolve issues that federal officials had about the legality of the sales, officials said.
The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) has until next month to install the kiosks under a deal struck with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which last year warned the state that $1 billion in federal funding was at risk because over-the-counter sales at interstate rest stops are against the law. State officials considered the rest stop a welcome center and defended the sales as promoting tourism as part of the Taste NY program because the products sold are locally sourced.
“We are pleased the federal government understands the significant contribution the Taste NY stores provide to our economy and to New York farms and businesses,” Tiffany Portzer, a spokeswoman for the state DOT, said in a statement. “Discussions are ongoing, but with this agreement, and the addition of self-checkout kiosks, these stores will continue to expose New Yorkers and visitors alike to the world-class products made in the Empire State.”
The Democrat & Chronicle first reported the news Tuesday. State DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll traveled to Washington, D.C. in December to meet with FHWA officials to discuss the sales at the rest stop on LI and elsewhere across New York. State and federal officials are also at odds over hundreds of signs across the state that read “I Love NY,” “Taste NY” and other tourism messages that the feds deemed distracting, but a FHWA spokesman said no resolution has been reached regarding the signage yet.
Besides the LIE rest stop, the state is also converting over-the-counter sales to self-checkout kiosks at another Taste NY rest stop in upstate Broome County.
“NYSDOT may proceed with self-checkout vending only in these two locations given that these operations are not commercial in nature and are intended to support and promote tourism,” Peter Osborn, the New York division administrator for the FHWA, wrote in a letter to Driscoll last month. “This interim authorization, however, is subject to the state’s commitment to refrain from installing and operating self-checkout vending at any other Interstate rest area.”
If the state violates the agreement, the threat of withholding federal funds is still on the table and the self-checkout kiosks on LI and in Broome County would have to be removed, Osborne warned.
Driscoll signaled that he hopes the FHWA will change its mind and let the state build more self-checkout kiosks at interstate rest stops. He termed it a pilot program.
“This pilot will demonstrate how interstate rest area facilities can effectively be used to market local agriculture products to fuel tourism and encourage the patronization of local business off the interstate highway system,” Driscoll wrote in a letter to Osborne earlier this month. “I strongly believe that this first-in-the-nation deployment of micro-market vending at interstate rest areas will serve as a model for the rest of the country.”
Osborne wrote back last week suggesting that Driscoll should not get his hopes up.
“This is not considered an official FHWA Pilot Program and/or experiment,” he wrote. “We look forward to our continued partnership with the NYSDOT to assist in advancing the state’s tourism initiatives in a manner that is consistent with federal laws and regulations.”