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Long Island Sound connector concept revived in Suffolk master plan

A rendering of a highway sign for a

A rendering of a highway sign for a bridge that would have crossed Long Island Sound from Oyster Bay to Rye, a project which was abandoned in 1973. Photo Credit: Newsday / Julia Gaines

The ambitious idea to dig a tunnel or build a bridge across the Long Island Sound, which has floated around for more than 50 years, lives on.

While past proposals have been derailed by citizen opposition and lack of funding, Suffolk County's master plan, which was adopted this month, promises to "explore feasibility for alternate means of ingress and egress" between Long Island and the mainland, including bridges and tunnels.

"We're proactively looking at older studies and older concepts that are out there," county spokesman Justin Meyers said. "The idea of having a direct connection to the mainland is very attractive. Whether or not it's economically feasible, environmentally feasible, and where it would go are still open questions."

The planning department is gathering information on connections that start either in Suffolk or in Nassau and connect to the mainland, but could seek grants for a more formal study in the future, Meyers said.

The master plan makes no promises about whether the idea will work, much less how to pay for what would be an enormous infrastructure project.

Meyers added: "Right now, we're at step one of about 5 million."

The idea of a connector across Long Island Sound to either Westchester County or Connecticut has been around for decades. Advocates have pitched it as a way to ease Long Island's cul-de-sac geography, which they argue makes goods more expensive and causes manufacturing businesses to be hesitant to move here. Also, getting from Long Island through New York City has become an ever-steadier traffic headache.

But even those who like the concept are skeptical it will ever happen.

Defeated for decadesE.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany-based think tank, said the region already has struggled to fund smaller billion-dollar projects, such as rail tunnels under the East and Hudson rivers.

"It's interesting to think about in the way interplanetary exploration is interesting to think about, and just about as feasible, given the current outlook for smaller, less-daunting mega projects," McMahon said.

Lee Koppelman, former county planning director, drew Suffolk's first bridge to Connecticut as a lark in 1960, but soon bought into the idea, he said in an interview. Long Island's original 1971 master plan shows two north-south routes, one in Shoreham from the William Floyd Parkway, and another in Nassau in Oyster Bay. The more recent master plan doesn't offer any such specific recommendations.

New York master builder Robert Moses pushed for a bridge from Oyster Bay to Rye in the 1960s and 1970s, but, as his power waned, was defeated by opponents on both ends of the proposed bridge.

More recently, a proposed bridge from Port Jefferson to Milford, Connecticut, was a plot point in the 2014 season of Netflix political drama "House of Cards," stirring up some interest in an actual bridge.

"That's the last I heard of the bridge," said Suffolk Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai).

Still, the bicounty Long Island Regional Planning Council has endorsed studying the concept.

A 2015 list of priorities compiled by the Long Island Association, which represents business interests, called for resurrecting the idea of a Long Island Sound crossing "to better connect the Long Island economy to the New England economy."

"We'd be right in the middle of New York and Boston and it would really strengthen our economy," said Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association.

Funding is the major problem, though. "It really needs to come from the federal government," Law said.

Other projects take priorityThe most recent proposal that has had any traction was a privately financed, $16 billion tunnel from Oyster Bay to Rye, which would have been paid for with tolls.

That idea has been stalled since 2009, when the company couldn't get state support, said Michael Polimeni, CEO of Polimeni International, a Garden City commercial development company. His father, Vincent Polimeni, who died in 2013, led the push for the tunnel for a decade.

Michael Polimeni said he still believes it's a good idea. Eventually, Long Island residents sick of congestion through New York City will push politicians for another route off the Island. "It'll become a forefront quality-of-life issue. It'll be something someone will run on," he said.

Koppelman said including the concept in the county's nonbinding master plan is fine, but there are other, more immediate transportation needs, such as improvements to the Long Island Rail Road system.

"Maybe at some point, it makes sense. Right now, there are too many other priorities," he said. "Long Island's economy is tied to New York City, not to New England."


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