Feds withhold funding for cross-sound railway

But the North Shore ‘nightmare’ may not be over yet


The Federal Railroad Administration announced on July 13 that it would not include funding for a cross-sound railway in its multi-billion-dollar investment plan for the Northeast Corridor rail line.

Residents and lawmakers in the Town of Oyster Bay have adamantly opposed the idea of a bridge or tunnel connecting the North Shore to the Westchester and Connecticut since it was first introduced by Nelson Rockefeller and Robert Moses in the 1960s.

While locals can breathe a sigh of relief that the federal government will not pursue the project, there is still worry that New York state will.

In June 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Department of Transportation hired consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. to perform a feasibility study of a cross-sound bridge or tunnel. According to the contract, the objective was to determine the demand and traffic projections, engineering, and construction and environmental factors.

About 14 local elected leaders held a news conference at Centre Island Beach last Friday showing bipartisan unity in their demand that Cuomo follow the Federal Railroad Administration’s decision and terminate any attempt to build a bridge or tunnel on the North Shore.

“This is not a North Shore problem solely. This will affect the entire Town of Oyster Bay, the entire Nassau County and all of Long Island,” said Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Michele Johnson, a Republican. “Make no mistake, it’s not a way off of Long Island. It’s a way on to Long Island.”

Although creation of the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge in 1968 might protect that area from a potential bridge or tunnel, the feasibility study contract states that a list of alternative locations must also be established.

“Their dream is our nightmare,” said Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, a Republican. “It would significantly increase traffic throughout the North Shore, put protected wildlife in jeopardy, ruin the environment and ruin the character of our communities.”

Saladino and other officials said that a cross-sound bridge would be a case of over-development, and an environmental hazard, with the effects felt for generations.

Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat, said when her parents first moved to Long Island, they looked at Oyster Bay. A cross-sound bridge “was contemplated over 40 years ago.” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It was stopped then, and it’s going to be stopped again now.”

Last year, the Long Island Association, a non-profit business group, asked Cuomo to look into both a tunnel and bridge. LIA officials believe certain businesses that deliver out of state would see the potential bridge as an alternative to avoid New York City traffic. “While every Long Islander recognizes the need to improve our transportation infrastructure, studying a flawed idea that has been around and debunked for decades is a dead end,” said State Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican.

“We’re willing to sit down and talk to any group, any time, to make sure they understand the impacts,” said Saladino. “With every idea that comes along it has to be weighed out, and the cost to our community, to our residents and to our environment, is way too great.”

He added that instead of a bridge or tunnel, the money could be spent on more state aid to improve infrastructure and groundwater, and fund various mandates.

“At the moment, we’re trying to find out what’s going on,” said Paul DeOrsay, executive director of Friends of the Bay, a local environmental organization. He said the organization has been seeking information from the NYSDOT by filing Freedom of Information requests. It has been successful in that a feasibility study contract was released, but DeOrsay has not been permitted to see the report, which was completed in February. “It worries us that there’s something they don’t want us to see,” he explained.

Friends of the Bay is working with Marcellino, State Assemblymen Michael Montesano, a Republican, and Charles Lavine, a Democrat, to pushback on the project and get more information on the study.

“That money could have been readily spent on infrastructure problems, especially for the LIRR,” said Montesano. “So I just want to ensure the constituency here that the Legislature will not be supporting this type of project. Thousands and thousands of homes would be taken under eminent domain if a project like this were to come to fruition.”

Bayville Deputy Mayor Joe Russo said the bipartisan opposition is a good sign of unity. “We’ve sent out letters to residents, reached out to the local elected officials throughout Long Island and Westchester, and we’re continuing our effort to oppose this as strongly as we can,” he said.