Governor Andrew Cuomo’s representative, Peter Kiernan, visited Nassau County more than once in late March to share an update of the governor’s plans for a tunnel from Oyster Bay to Westchester. As the governor’s special counselor for infrastructure initiatives he had all of the details when he met with Bayville’s Tunnel Committee on March 23. He began by promising to be completely transparent. “There are no secrets,” he said. “Maybe there will be at some point, but there are not secrets now.”
The latest initiative — the previous suggestion was for a sound-crossing bridge — satisfies the governor’s findings from a 2017 feasibility study crafted to consider transportation alternatives. The tunnel, which Kiernan said would be one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world, will cost $31.5 billion.
It will take between 12 and 15 years to complete. Kiernan said the tunnel was found to be the best alternative to “property taking and property disruption,” would produce the “greatest amount of traffic and congestion relief and promises the greatest amount of economic development.”
The governor’s original concept was to build three tubes, with two lanes per tube. But results from the feasibility study found that improvements in technology will allow for less disruption by creating one tube instead, with two lanes stacked on top of each other. The tunnel is projected to travel 9 miles under the seabed of the Sound and roughly 4 ½ miles on either end to stay clear of the coastline.
Sea Cliff Mayor Edward Lieberman said he cannot visualize it any other way than as a conduit to the creation of a “tremendous bottleneck through the center of Nassau County. It will benefit Suffolk, yet it will go through the heart of Nassau,” he said. “The governor hasn’t really been a champion of the villages.”
Bayville Deputy Mayor Joe Russo, who is also a member of the tunnel committee, said everyone was surprised by how quickly the decision to build the tunnel is proceeding. Cuomo is committed to the tunnel, he said, because he truly believes it is an infrastructure project that will make great strides in taming congestion on the roadways.
John Taylor, a member of the committee and a Bayville trustee, disagrees. He believes a tunnel will bring more freight, trucking and warehouses. “Historically, new crossings create more congestion,” he said, adding that it will lead to urbanization. “Nassau County will become like Queens,” he said. “Bayside was a suburban area before the Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges were built.”
Those who oppose the tunnel also worry about the impact it will have on the water supply and the pollution that Taylor said would pour out of the tunnel vents.
Glen Cove Mayor Tim Tenke said he has not made a decision yet whether he supports the tunnel. But he is concerned about the air pollution and congestion that truck traffic will bring. The impact the tunnel will have on water and air must be minimalized, he said.
Bayville Mayor Paul Rupp, who created the eight-member tunnel committee, said he hopes to inspire his community to fight the tunnel. “I saw them do this with the Long Island Rail Road third track,” he said. “The way to stop it will be an environmental impact study.”
Rob Crafa, coordinator for the Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee, said at a March 1 press conference held by Senator Carl Marcellino and village mayors that the environmental implications of a tunnel would be “incredibly destructive” to the area. “This bay supports the state’s fishing industry,” he said. “Planning a sound crossing over or under this embayment is contrary to numerous government designations to protect the ecologic and economic benefits of the Sound.”
Kiernan did not address the tunnel’s environmental impact at the March 23 meeting. He cited instead the increase in population experienced on Long Island over the last couple of decades as a reason to move forward quickly with the tunnel. And “labor pools,” including skilled well-trained labor, he said, are finding it difficult to get to Nassau County, where technology companies are flourishing.
Tenke said he has not met with anyone regarding the tunnel but he does agree with the governor that it could be economically advantageous. “People from Connecticut and Westchester would come to Long Island to work,” he said. “It would be much more attractive for them.”
The governor scrapped the initial idea, to run a bridge or tunnel to Connecticut, for a variety of reasons. “There was federal funding but having two state governments, two state bureaucracies was deemed to be ill advised,” Kiernan said, adding that Connecticut wasn’t enthusiastic about the project.
Taylor questioned the $31.5 billion projected cost, comparing it to the Queens Tunnel that was $20 billion and Manhattan’s second avenue subway, which cost $40 billion. He asked how a 9 mile plus tunnel could only cost $31.5 billion?
Some early estimates have suggested that the project may come in less than $31.5 billion, Kiernan said. Admitting he was not an engineer, he suggested that the tunnel was a “different animal” than the examples Taylor had given. Additionally, plans to use the same designer and builder will be cost-saving
The governor is hoping that the Legislature will authorize a new Tunnel Authority for the project, which would allow for more private investment. Run by a board appointed by the Legislature the Tunnel Authority would have bonding authority.
Lieberman said the idea to build a tunnel brings back memories. “When I was a little boy in Great Neck Governor Rockefeller discussed doing this with Robert Moses,” he said. “I would think if it hasn’t been built all of these years there is good reason.”
Although most people he has spoken to in Sea Cliff are against the tunnel there are some that see it as an extra exit if a natural disaster is to occur. But Lieberman remains opposed to it. “Are there going to be trucks standing still to get through?” he wondered. “Will we become overwhelmed with cars and trucks? I think it will probably cost $100 round trip in today’s dollars and cents.”
The Sound Crossing Meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Bayville Intermediate School, 50 Mountain Ave. There will be a discussion on the implications the tunnel will have on Bayville and suggestions of what residents can do to stop it. The public is encouraged to attend.