Facing mounting public opposition to a plan to build a tunnel across the Long Island Sound, the State Department of Transportation last week nixed the project before it ever got beyond the concept stage.
In recent months, hundreds of Long Island residents decried the project, which would have taken up to 15 years to build and connected the North Shore with Westchester. People said the tunnel could destroy the natural beauty of North Shore beaches and threaten wildlife.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had championed the project, was relatively quiet after the plan was canceled. Acting DOT Commissioner Paul Karas said, “After a careful review of a variety of considerations pertaining to the project, NYSDOT has decided not to move forward with it at this time.”
The tunnel design called for an 18-mile-long, multi-level tube with two lanes on each level. It would have stretched for nine miles under the Long Island Sound, and for nine miles underground, on the North Shore and in Westchester County. The entrances and exits would have been north of the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway and Jericho Turnpike, and south of the New England Thruway and Playland Parkway.
The project had an estimated cost of $31.5 billion, but some said it could have cost as much as $150 billion.
“I think the governor realized that the Assembly and Senate were not going to create a New York state authority to build the tunnel,” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove. “The projected cost was a fraction of what it would have cost.”
A nonprofit, bipartisan organization, the Coalition Against an UnSound Crossing, was prepared to begin what it said would be an aggressive education campaign, including print and television advertising, to stir opposition to the project if it had moved forward.
John Taylor, who started the group with Bill Bleyer, a former Newsday reporter, said that organized public opposition might have caused the governor to rethink the state’s plans. The group was able to attract widespread media attention with a single news conference.
The Anti-Tunnel Committee, in Bayville, had also hosted a series of meetings in various North Shore communities in recent months. The group shared a PowerPoint presentation and encouraged people to write to the governor in opposition to the tunnel.
Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino held a news conference last Friday to celebrate the state’s decision to abandon the tunnel project. “For nearly a year, we have stood together as a family to stop the tunnel,” Saladino said, surrounded by legislators, village leaders and town council members. “But while we celebrate today, we must remain vigilant to make sure this plan never goes forward. No bridge, no tunnel, no way.”
State Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican from Syosset, said, “The forces that want this will still be out there. It’s time to cut the head off this snake and let it die.”
Taylor said the UnSound coalition would continue its efforts. “We will stand over the grave of this thing and make sure it’s dead,” he noted.
Bayville Trustee Bob Nigro said he was relieved by the state’s decision to discontinue the project. “When they built Route 135, there were hundreds of homes there,” he said. “Those people got a letter saying what their house was worth and that their homes were being taken. Progress has to have a purpose, a benefit. Something can’t be just for progress in and of itself.”