What would you say if you were offered a plan that would reduce travel time on Long Island, decrease congestion, improve air quality and help insure the region’s economic competitiveness?
Well, if you were Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino you would say no. In fact, hell no.
Saladino promised last week he would fight “relentlessly” one of two possible plans offered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for crossing the Long Island Sound — a tunnel between Oyster Bay and either Rye or Port Chester in Westchester County.
The Oyster Bay Republican was not the only elected official to reject the Oyster Bay plan — or even further studies of the plan.
The state’s top Republican, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, recently said he opposed a Sound tunnel regardless of its location.
This included a second plan that would connect Kings Park in Suffolk County with either Bridgeport or Devon, Connecticut, with either a bridge or tunnel or some combination of both.
“We have so many other things that we need to do” in terms of state spending, said Flanagan, whose district includes both Oyster Bay and Kings Park, at a recent meeting of the Long Island Association.
The LIA, the region’s largest business group, had lobbied the state to study both bridges and tunnels to either Westchester or Connecticut in an effort to boost Long Island’s economy and improve its quality of life.
This is not the first time that Republican officials have opposed a Cuomo transportation initiative aimed at reducing congestion and improving the economy on Long Island.
Republicans led the charge opposing Cuomo’s plan for a $1.5 billion third track expansion between Floral Park and Hicksville to eliminate a LIRR bottleneck on a route that carries 40 percent of the rail traffic on Long Island.
This seems to raise the question of whatever happened to pro-growth Republicans in New York.
But in fairness, some Republican officials took a more measured approach to the third track before eventually backing it and some Democrats if not opposing the plan withheld their support – proving that members of both parties fear not-in-my-backyard opposition.
Regardless of party affiliation, we should not let the opposition of the few get in the way of a large benefit for the very many, especially when considering improvements to Long Island’s infrastructure. They are long overdue and well needed.
We know that unless you have time for a ferry to Bridgeport or New London – or your own personal boat – anyone leaving Long Island by car must drive west. No matter where you are headed. Going to Westchester? Head west. Going to Albany? Head west. Going to Boston? Head west.
And we all know what that means for everyone — many hours a year stuck in traffic.
A $5 million study released this month estimated a Sound tunnel would cost between $31.5 billion and $55.4 billion to build, depending on location and whether there are one or two tubes.
The study’s authors estimated between 74,300 and 86,400 vehicles would use a tunnel per day. That’s 74,300 and 86,400 not driving through northwest Nassau County a day.
Even accounting for people taking advantage of the easier access to Westchester, Connectictut and beyond — and that would certainly be an economic benefit to all of Long Island — that’s a lot of traffic off the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway.
We’d like to ask Flanagan just what is more important in terms of state transportation needs than reducing congestion, improving the quality of life and aiding growth on Long Island.
Keep in mind that, according to the study, drivers would pay more than $500 million in tolls per year, if the fee were $20 to $25 per trip.
In his opposition, Saladino said the tunnel “would diminish property values and could impact the health, safety and well-being of our neighborhoods and environment.”
Funny, we never heard this argument when Long Island’s elected officials were campaigning against the New York City commuter tax and we doubt that we will hear it if the city moves ahead with congestion pricing.
We’re just lucky New York City residents are not objecting to the diminished property values and impact on the “health, safety and well-being of our neighborhoods and environment” caused by drivers from Long Island.
Or for that matter residents of Long Island not living in Oyster Bay.
The knee-jerk opposition to the tunnel plans also raises the question of how New York City can build four bridges and a tunnel connecting Queens with the Bronx and Manhattan — all of which are used frequently by residents of Long Island — but Long Island can build none linking Westchester and Connecticut.
It’s not as if we’re trying to build a tunnel under the English Channel, connecting England with France. Oh wait, that’s already been done.
Cuomo announced last week that he was pushing ahead with plans for a Long Island Sound tunnel.
LIA President Kevin Law offered the correct response.
The state should “continue gathering all the facts, all the costs and all the benefits of a tunnel or bridge and then we should have a public discussion on their findings,” he said.
For transportation projects on Long Island that might be a first. A long overdue first.