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Source: Press and Sun-Bulletin

Tunnel from Long Island to Westchester to be studied

BY JON CAMPBELL

Posted: January 7, 2016
Originally Published: January 5, 2016

ALBANY — The decades-old idea of linking Westchester County to Long Island is getting a fresh look.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he wants to spend $5 million on a state study that would look at whether a tunnel across the Long Island Sound would be financially and practically feasible, saying it has the potential to allow commuters from the island to bypass Manhattan.

The study, Cuomo said, will look at three potential destination points: the Bronx, Westchester or Connecticut.

“I want to do a really thorough feasibility study,” Cuomo said at an event on Long Island. “I think we can build a tunnel from Long Island to either the Bronx, Westchester or Connecticut. It will shave hours and hours from a commutation standpoint.”

Cuomo’s push for a new study breathes new life into a debate that had gone dormant in recent years, and comes as the state Thruway Authority builds a new, $3.9 billion replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge on Westchester’s west border.

Various proposals for a bridge or tunnel across the Long Island Sound date back to the days of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and master builder Robert Moses in the 1960s. Moses had pushed for a bridge between Oyster Bay and Rye, though he was never successful in getting it off the ground.

More recently, a 2007 plan from Long Island developer Polimeni International to build a 16-mile-long, three-tube tunnel to Rye — which was expected to cost at least $10 billion — was felled in part by the economic recession.

In all, no fewer than 10 bridges, tunnels or routes over the Sound have been proposed or studied over the years.

Cuomo, however, scoffed at a reporter Tuesday who suggested the idea might be a “pipe dream,” saying the state needs to “think bold” as it assesses its infrastructure and traffic patterns.

The Democratic governor even pointed to Moses, the polarizing urban planner who specialized in pushing through major infrastructure projects.

“Would you say that FDR was a pipe dream? Would you say Robert Moses was a pipe dream?” Cuomo asked. “Was the Verrazano (bridge) a pipe dream? Was the George Washington (Bridge) a pipe dream? Was the (Long Island Expressway) a pipe dream? Was the Empire State Building a pipe dream? Was the Freedom Tower a pipe dream?”

He continued: “We have to think bold. We have to think big. We can do it. We are New Yorkers — there’s nothing we can’t do.”

Cuomo’s proposal is limited to a feasibility study, at least for the time being. He said he will include the funding in his state budget proposal, which he is scheduled to unveil Jan. 13.

The funding would have to be approved, however, by the state legislature, which is set to begin its annual session Wednesday at the Capitol. And previous plans for a bridge or tunnel have been met with significant public opposition from the communities on either end of the span.

The Empire Center, a fiscally conservative, Albany-based think tank, questioned the wisdom of studying a Long Island Sound crossing when there are unanswered questions about how the new Tappan Zee Bridge will be paid for.

“Talk of even studying a new L.I. Sound crossing is especially questionable given the governor’s failure to detail how he intends to pay for the one big mega-project he actually has under construction,” the think tank posted on its blog Tuesday.

Among the current state lawmakers is Assemblyman Steve Otis, D-Rye, Westchester County, who was the mayor of Rye — and one of the most vocal opponents of the Polimeni proposal — in 2007.

On Tuesday, Otis said he was pleased Cuomo is studying potential tunnel routes to the Bronx and Connecticut, not just Westchester.

Otis said he’s convinced the study will show a tunnel to Westchester would cause insurmountable traffic problems on the highways that run through the counties, including I-287.

“What we found back when the tunnel had been proposed previously specifically for Westchester was it brought I-95 and 287 to really traffic failure kinds of traffic volumes, and any study for the region would demonstrate that again,” Otis said.

Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-White Plains, Westchester County, said a new study “can help answer once and for all whether this is an idea worth pursuing.”

“Obviously, the details of what’s being looked at are going to be important,” Buchwald said. “But I always maintain that we should be thinking expansively about how we can grow our economy by investing in our transportation infrastructure.”

Supporters of the 2007 tunnel proposal were intrigued by Cuomo’s call for a new study.

Michael Polimeni, the current CEO of Polimeni International, the company behind the previous proposal, said there has “never been a debate over the need for a Long Island Sound tunnel.”

“The governor’s new sweeping vision on transportation suggests there may now be the interest and the political will to see this idea become part of the infrastructure solutions required to protect the region’s future,” he said. “We would welcome that initiative and would be willing to share much of the data we already accumulated with his administration.”

Cuomo’s study is likely to receive attention from environmentalists, who have long been skeptical of projects with the potential to harm the Sound.

When Polimeni advanced the 2007 proposal, the company spent hours meeting with the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, according to Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the Long Island-based environmental group.

Esposito said her group was satisfied the project as it was proposed had the potential to benefit the environment and limit harm to the Sound.

“We met extensively with the engineers, the scientists — I mean, for hours, a couple of times,” Esposito said Tuesday. “At the end of weeks of meetings, we actually came out in favor of the tunnel (advancing to the next stage) of study.”