On June 28, to the delight of area residents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced that it was abandoning plans for a cross-Long Island Sound tunnel “at this time.”
All of us who care about this issue hope this will be the final attempt at a Sound crossing. A tunnel would stress the ecology of the Sound and Oyster Bay, put our sole-source aquifers at risk (did we not learn anything from the Bethpage chemical plume?), lead to urbanization and industrialization, and forever alter Long Island’s suburban quality. At the same time, it would, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the governor, generate more traffic rather than relieve current congestion.
The 18-mile project was estimated to have cost from $31.5 billion to $55.4 billion. That would have been an unprecedented amount for a transportation project of this kind, which could never have been paid for by tolls alone. Ultimately, the burden would have fallen on state taxpayers.
The idea for a bridge or tunnel goes back to 1938, and each new proposal has been met with strong public opposition from both sides of the Sound. Before this, the most serious proposal for a Sound crossing was the Bayville-Rye Bridge championed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and master builder Robert Moses in the late 1960s through early ’70s. While that proposal was defeated, it took many years of hard work by elected officials, residents and organizations on the North Shore and in Westchester.
This latest proposal came in Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State Address. Local residents immediately opposed it, along with State Sen. Carl Marcellino, the Village of Bayville and Town of Oyster Bay.
Bayville Mayor Paul Rupp impaneled an anti-tunnel committee of officials and residents. The committee researched the proposal, met with senior representatives from the governor’s office and created a presentation that explained to hundreds of Bayville residents the proposal’s flaws. The committee — comprising Trustee John Taylor (the chairman), Deputy Mayor Joe Russo, Trustee Tim Charon, Zoning Board member Gene Pileggi, former Deputy Mayor Rena Bologna, former Trustee George Jehn, technology executive Jen Jones and attorney Loretta Cummings — took the presentation to residents in Locust Valley, Jericho and Syosset. Videos of these presentations, posted online, were viewed more than 7,000 times.
Other elected leaders who joined the opposition early on included Assemblymen Mike Montesano and Chuck Lavine; U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi; Nassau County Legislators Josh Lafazan, Delia DeRiggi-Whitton and Arnie Drucker; Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joe Saladino and Councilwoman Michele Johnson; and the mayors of all North Shore villages. The Glen Cove City Council and Mayor Tim Tenke were the latest to join the fight, issuing a resolution opposing the tunnel two days before the project was canceled.
The recent work of the Bayville Anti-Tunnel Committee and elected officials was supplemented by the creation of the Coalition Against an UnSound Crossing. The nonprofit organization was founded by Bill Bleyer and John Taylor, of Bayville, and Friends of the Bay Executive Director Heather Johnson. They believed a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent group was needed to organize public officials, organizations and individuals opposed to the tunnel and undertake fundraising to hire public relations, legal and environmental experts to make an effective and prolonged fight to stop the project. The coalition’s executive director, Peter Janow, joined the presentations at the Bayville committee’s road show.
Cuomo’s withdrawal of this project shows that people can have their voices heard at the highest levels of government. The Bayville committee and CAUC look forward to seeing improvements in existing highways, bridges and tunnels, as well as improvements to and an expansion of the region’s mass transit system.
We will continue to work to protect Long Island from becoming an extension of New York City by pursuing initiatives to protect the region from such a tunnel project again.
One worth considering comes from former U.S Rep. Lester Wolff, who was instrumental in the late 1960s in creating the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which was the ultimate barrier to the bridge project at the time. Wolff is advocating that Long Island Sound be designated a national marine sanctuary. Done in a way to protect fishing and other recreational opportunities, the idea could protect us in perpetuity.
John Taylor is chairman of the Bayville Anti-Tunnel Committee and a founder and director of the Coalition Against an UnSound Crossing. George Jehn is a former Village of Bayville trustee and member of the anti-tunnel committee who fought the Bayville-Rye Bridge proposal in the 1960s and early 1970s. Bill Bleyer, a former Newsday reporter, covered the original bridge battle as a reporter for the Oyster Bay Guardian. He is a founder and vice president of the Coalition Against an UnSound Crossing.