some additional information (work in progress)
Robert H. Rodgers, who has been working on a new edition of Varro’s De Re Rustica, writes that “we have here a second proverbial expression” (Rodgers 2015, p. 170).
Rodgers claims that “in direct speech the thought would then be porta itineri longissima est, ‘in contemplating a journey, the gate is the most distant point’” (p. 170).
He also mentions (on p. 171) that
“Giusta finds the dative forced (he would have expected a genitive), and sets forth a more complex alternative: porta interdici longissimum esse ‘è lunghissimo essere trattenuti fuori della porta'; he explains that our guests are obliged to wait outside the temple as travellers might be delayed in formalities at a city gate.”
cf. Giusta "Una congettura abbastanza semplice è porta[m] interdici longissimum esse, «è lunghissimo essere trattenuti fuori della porta», ossia «non potere entrare in città»" (NB: note his conjectural emendation porta[m])
Rodgers writes that this suggestion proposed by Michelangelo Giusta “is not unattractive in its meaning, nor unreasonable from a paleographical point of view” (p. 171). He mentions two similar constructions: longum est meaning ‘it is tedious’ and longissimum spatium + gerund (Rhet. Her. 4.53, Var. LL 6.11).
Finally, Rodgers admits that “if the dative is troublesome, one could maintain the traditional interpretation, less intrusively writing <in> itinere, ‘in the case of a journey’” (p. 171).
Next, I am going to read Giusta, Michelangelo, Raffaella Falcetto, and Giuseppina Magnaldi. 2006. Per il testo delle Res rusticae di Varrone: libri I-II. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso - and I'll add more info then.