By Laura Lane
Many of the residents at the Long Island Sound Tunnel information meeting on Tueday night appeared to be stunned. Craning their necks, they focused on the Village of Bayville Tunnel Committee’s PowerPoint presentation.
Voices have often been raised in acrimony and despair in the past when other issues were debated — building a sea wall around Bayville’s shoreline to stop its future decimation from hurricanes, allowing the construction of a seaside inn on the former Steve’s Pier site, or even moving a menorah onto the Bayville Bridge. Bayvillites refuse to take much lying down.
But seeing information indicating that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is moving forward with plans to build a tunnel from Oyster Bay to Westchester County led to utter silence.
The meeting, held at Bayville Intermediate School. was packed, with people standing and others jammed in the doorways. Many could not get in at all to see the presentation, and those in the back said they could not hear it. But by the end of the evening, more than 300 people had signed up to volunteer to fight the tunnel.
The tunnel plan grew out of a 2017 feasibility study crafted to consider transportation alternatives. The tunnel, which Cuomo has said he believes will provide relieve from congestion and promise economic development, would be one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world, costing an estimated $31.5 billion.
The committee first learned that the tunnel was definite when they met with Peter Kiernan, the governor’s special counselor for infrastructure initiatives, on March 23. Kiernan shared an update of the governor’s plans, and said the project would take 12 to 15 years to complete.
The theme of the meeting, expressed by committee members, elected leaders and those who spoke during the public session, was one of unity. “We were able to defeat the wall, and we’ll defeat this, too,” said John Taylor, the committee chair and a Bayville village trustee. “I encourage everyone to get involved.”
The tunnel will comprise a single multi-level tube with two lanes on each level. It will be 18 miles long, nine miles of it under the Long Island Sound and the other nine miles underground in Long Island and Westchester County. The entrances and exits are planned to be north of the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway and Jericho Turnpike, and, in Westchester, south of the New England Thruway and Playland Parkway.
“There will be much more traffic from trucks,” Taylor said. “Huge towers will push exhaust into the air — these ventilation shafts will allow for fresh air to go into the tunnel. And there will be a lot of noise from them — like giant blowers.”
A decision has not been made where the ventilation/access shafts will be, but they need to be built near the center of the tunnel. The committee has predicted that the shafts, which will be several city blocks wide, will be built in either Bayville, Oyster Bay or Centre Island.
Former Bayville Trustee George Jehn, who is on the tunnel committee, and 99-year-old former U.S. Rep. Lester Wolff attended the meeting. They fought against a bridge to Rye in the 1960s, a dream of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Robert Moses. Wolff said the tunnel was deja vu, a remark that received a standing ovation.
The bridge was stopped back then, in part, by the designation of part of the land it would have occupied a National Wildlife Refuge. “You can’t build under or over a wildlife refuge,” Taylor explained. “But this tunnel goes around most of the wildlife preserve. It will be difficult to fight this, but we can do it.”
Since the 1930’s there have been 10 bridge/tunnel proposals, Taylor said. “This is like a vampire that won’t die.”
The feasibility study estimated that 86,400 vehicles would use the tunnel per day, and 3,715 of them would be trucks.
Deputy Mayor Joe Russo, also a member of the committee, said that the biggest surprise during the meeting with Kiernan was how the governor planned to finance the tunnel. The plan is to create a new agency responsible only for the tunnel — the Tunnel Authority — which would have the power to issue bonds and would not be under the control of the New York State Department of Transportation, Russo said.
Committee member Rita Bologna, a former Bayville trustee and deputy mayor, said she hoped that an environmental study, as well as legal action against the tunnel, would slow the process.
“Major companies are putting in bids saying this can be done. It’s no longer just a proposal,” she said. “The governor has put a lot of time and money into this.”
Jen Jones, a technology executive who is also on the tunnel committee, and is running for village trustee, said she was concerned about the risk to the water supply. “Our aquifer is the only supply we have of clean water,” she said, adding that the tunnel would be routed under Centre Island, where residents use private wells. “They will need to get water elsewhere.”
Pollution caused by vehicle exhaust, more traffic, as well as the construction of apartments can be expected with the tunnel, committee members said. Bayville might become another Queens, Jones said.
“If we have money to spend, why aren’t we investing in our current infrastructure?” she asked. “We already have ferries to the east and tunnels. There are cities planning for flying cars. We need to think into the future.”
“Rye will be seven miles east from where the Throgs Neck Bridge exits,” said Gene Pileggi, a tunnel committee member, who is also a Bayville Planning Board member and the ZBA chairman. “This is an illogical project. It’s like a Fellini nightmare.”