Melville, NY - June 3, 2016 - This morning Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that construction on the brand-new Taste NY Long Island Welcome Center in Huntington, New York is officially underway. The new facility will convert a formerly underused parking area along the Long Island Expressway into a state-of-the-art Welcome Center, featuring some of New York’s best locally made and produced food and beverage products. More information is available here.
The Governor made the announcement at the Long Island Association in Melville, where he also announced that two key contracts have been awarded to significantly advance the Long Island Rail Road’s Double Track project. When completed, the project will dramatically increase capacity of the Ronkonkoma Branch along 18 miles between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma. Completion of the Double Track project is targeted for the end of 2018. More information is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is below:
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, it’s truly my pleasure to be back, and let me second what has been said about the LIA and Kevin Law. The organization does great work, it is a prime mover for Long Island and Kevin Law is a phenomenal leader, so let’s give him another round of applause. To Chairman Prendergast and to the MTA, which is probably one of the toughest jobs, I think, in public service is running the MTA because it is massive, it is difficult, and he has done an extraordinary job. Tom Prendergast.
Commissioner Matt Driscoll, as Kevin said, he was the former Mayor of Syracuse. When you are a mayor, when you are a local elected official, you have a totally different orientation. You know that government has to work, and it has to perform because you’re on the front line of government. It’s engrained in mayors, and that’s just what he brought to the Department of Transportation -- he makes things happen. We were together yesterday up in Cattaraugus, we were blowing up a bridge to build a new bridge. People love when you blow up a bridge, by the way. It really is – and it’s nice, because it worked! They give you that plunger, and I said “Matt, if we push this plunger, and this bridge doesn’t blow up, you have a problem.” He’s doing a great job, and you can see what he did here, Commissioner Matt Driscoll.
Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball who’s going to take over the operation of the Welcome Center. The Department of Transportation builds it and then the actual operation of the centers is done by the Department of Agriculture. So Richard Ball is here, let’s give him a round of applause. And my colleagues, Assemblyman Lupinacci and Assemblyman Raia who have been extraordinary and Frank Patron, and I’ll have more to say about them in a moment but it’s a pleasure to be with them, Assemblyman Raia and Assemblyman Lupinacci.
These two projects, individually, are important and then they make a statement together. The Welcome Center is obvious, my daughters would say “It’s a no-brainer,” it is long overdue. I didn’t know that it was proposed during my father’s administration, Kevin, so let me revise my thinking – this is my father’s idea, I am just completing it. But it is a long time coming, it was an obvious innovation on a lot of different levels.
First, as a Welcome Center for Long Island itself, to introduce people to Long Island, to promote the Long Island market. Tourism is big, big business for us, and we have invested a lot of money in tourism, the I Love NY campaign, we’ve gotten very creative with it, and it is one of the most successful economic ventures this state has entered into. We invested $60 million in the I Love New York campaign, which sounds like a lot of money, because it is a lot of money. But the legislature authorized $60 million to invest in I Love New York promotion of tourism. TV commercials, local tourism, tourism packages, etc. $60 million investment, how much did tourism increase? $4 Billion in this state. Okay? So we know, if you invest in tourism and you market what we have, it will generate the economy.
Tourism on Long Island is a $5 Billion dollar industry. We can make that $5 billion $6 billion. I know we can. Because we have not been promoting Long Island the way we should promote Long Island. And that’s first and foremost what this is. Welcome Center slash promotional marketing device for Long Island. Second, it serves as a convenience rest stop.
It will allow them to coordinate there is also an emergency function to this site that I appreciate probably more than most as we know storms, hurricanes, floods, hurricane Sandy, snowstorms are becoming more and more prevalent. The Long Island Expressway becomes a point of exposure what you do with drivers who are on the LIE, people who are possibly stranded, this will have an emergency backup function as a refuge in case of a serious storm. And by the way, I have been out there in a number of serious storms where you – people are stranded in cars, they need a place to go and this will also serve that function. Again with the police on site, so it makes total sense.
Second, on the second track, double track, this is again a no brainer. You cannot operate one track for a portion of the system without experiencing delays. Something goes wrong on that one track, one train gets stuck on that one track everything is stopped. So of course it had to be done and it is another project that we have been talking about for twenty years that just never happened and now the contracts are getting let and that is being expedited and the second track is happening and has been advanced in the timing and in the schedule. As Kevin mentioned we are also working on the third track so both projects in and of themselves make tremendous sense and are long overdue and are obvious advantages. They also make another statement together which is that it is about getting things done right? Government is about getting things done.
Going back to the rest area at exit 50. That rest area is terrible. I mean it is currently terrible. I had an experience with that rest area myself several years back, my brother and I had the great idea that we purchased a historic car on EBay. And a sight unseen we bought it on EBay, we had it shipped, pick it up in New Jersey and driving into Manhattan it gets stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel, the new car. Then gets stuck in Manhattan. The car turns out to be a piece of junk and our plan is to bring it to my brothers garage in South Hampton and leave it there to figure out what to do on another day. I get charged with the responsibility of driving it out because he doesn’t believe it is going to make it to South Hampton. I wait for a Friday night, late because the traffic is light and I start to drive it out. My brother was right it doesn’t make it, I get stuck but I make it to the rest stop at exit 50. Now it is very late on a Friday night, you have to get a tow truck to come to exit 50, this is a nightmare from hell with this car and I am upset but I get the opportunity to spend several hours on a Friday night at the exit 50 rest stop.
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. 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. The criminal activity that went on in the open. The total lack of services, the truckers who are staying there wind up being very creative in there 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.
I brought it up, I then become governor, I am now in a point where I can make change and I brought it up to people because it is one of those situations where you say to yourself, why do we let this continue? Right? Why do we let this happen? And it is one of those situations that makes people upset and frustrated. 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?” It is infuriating. It really is infuriating.
We talk about the political anger that is out there now: voter anger, citizen anger. Who wouldn’t be angry? Look at the dysfunction of government, the lack of common sense, the gridlock. 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… “The community this, the community that, we tried, there was unhappiness.” I said it can’t be. They can’t want to protect what is there because it is terrible what is there. And they said, “But they’re afraid of change and this and that.” I said it can’t be and we can’t take that as an obstacle. That started a long series of working through change.
Matt Driscoll did a great job because he went, he showed up, he talked people through the fear, through the anxiety. Assemblyman Andrew Raia is a hero. Why? Because pandering is very, very easy. Pandering to a community’s fears is very, very easy. And when this community said, “I’m afraid of what’s going to happen,” it takes courage to stand up and say, “You know what? This situation is not good. We should change, we should have the courage to change, and rather than just saying no, let’s work with the process to say yes to something that is smart.” Andrew Raia did that. Most politicians would have just pandered to the fear. That’s safe. He had the courage to stand up and work with the community and work with the commissioner to come to a yes. Let’s give him a round of applause.
But the rest area says for twenty years it was an intolerable situation. We should have had this for Long Island and now it’s going to be a reality. The Double Track, the Second Track should have been done twenty years ago. There was opposition, it was difficult, and we’re going to do it and that was the commonality between the two. Both project say, “Do it right. But do it.”
Kevin called me “Rocky Moses.” It sounds like a boxer from the 1950’s. We were out at Jones Beach and we announced a $65 million renovation program of Jones Beach which is – you want to talk about long-overdue. If you grew up in my generation, all you saw was the degradation of Jones Beach. I went to Jones Beach as a kid and all through as a teenager and I remember just seeing the facilities deteriorating. It was another one of those situations of “why did they let this happen? Why didn’t anyone fix the building?” It was just a constant, slow decline of the facility at Jones Beach. We were walking through the renovation and the restoration and we are now bringing it back to what it was. A good part of the facility, they just basically closed off or they renovated it 1960’s style. We’re now taking down drop ceilings etcetera, and renovating what was. It was magnificent what they built.
When you look at their ambition for what they did at Jones Beach – the entire barrier island had to be raised 14 feet. Think of that. All of Jones Beach is raised 14 feet because it was just about at sea level. If any of the ambition of that project is breathtaking – if anyone stood up before the LIA today and said, “We’re going to take an entire barrier island, we’re going to add fill for 14 feet, and then we’re going to have seven miles of facilities and different attractions, spend an exorbitant amount on architecture and carvings and stone work. I mean we couldn’t even contemplate.
Now, Robert Moses was frankly too far the other way. He was, “we are going to get it done and we are going to get it done my way and consultation is secondary.” But frankly we have gone the other way. Paralysis doesn’t work either my friends and we are close to paralysis especially on Long Island it can’t always be no and it can’t always be that we run away from the hard projects because I have news for you, they are all hard projects. Anything you go to do is hard. It is all complicated, it is all difficult. The second track is hard, the third track is hard Jones Beach is hard, the welcome center is hard it is all hard. It is all hard but if you shrink from hard, if you shrink from difficult, you run then it is it over. Because other spaces are developing.
We just announced LaGuardia Airport. You want to talk about a metaphor for what should have been done twenty years ago. Penn Station, Moynihan Hall named for Moynihan that is when the idea came up under Senator Moynihan and nothing has happened. It is all hard but our job, our challenge, the fundamental role of government is to get it done even though it is hard not to get done what is easy but to get done what is hard and to accomplish it and to make it happen. That is what government is all about and that is what government today is all about. And when they look back and they judge the Kevin Law’s and the LIA and the Governor Cuomo’s and the Prendergast’s and the Driscoll’s and their positions, the question is going to be what did they get done? What did they accomplish and what did they achieve?
New York what we are, this is all about super achievement. When you look at how we made this state, the number one state in the country, number one state on the globe it was by refusing to take no for an answer. Everything we did was hard, was difficult, was impossible. The longest bridge, the tallest building, hundreds of miles of subways, the Long Island Expressway coming out, the Northern State Parkway, Jones Beach, all of these things were super achievements, they were ambitious and a sense of belief in us as New Yorkers and “of course we can get it done, of course we can get it done!”
These are reminders of that. The Jones Beach revitalization to bring it back to its former glory – of course we can get it done. A welcome center to Long Island to tell our story and to clean up a mess that should have never been there in the first place – of course we can get it done. The second track, the third track, because if you want Long Island to grow and prosper, you need mass transit because the answer is going to be getting on that LIE and driving in your car. You have no future for growth if that is the answer. So you need the LIRR to become more sophisticated, even though it’s hard. This says there is a different culture, it’s a different day. We can do these things if we have the courage to go forward together. These two projects are an example of that. The LIA’s leadership, the LIA’s partnership in advocating these projects was vital to it and if we keep the energy up and if we keep the partnership up, the sky is the limit.
We’re not just going to rebuild and replace. We’re going to make this place better than it was before. The way our parents left it better than they found it, our job is to improve it to a point that is better than we had it. Thank you and God bless you.