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Cuomo administration drops plan for bridge/tunnel crossing LI Sound

The acting commissioner of the state Transportation Department says the project will not be moving forward "at this time."

A rendering of the proposed tunnel that would

A rendering of the proposed tunnel that would run under the Long Island Sound. Photo Credit: Polimeni International

ALBANY – The Cuomo administration on Thursday abandoned its proposal to build either a new bridge or tunnel to cross Long Island Sound, an idea that had run into local opposition.

Without going into detail, Paul Karas, the acting commissioner of the state Transportation Department, said the project will not be moving forward “at this time.”

“After careful review of a variety of considerations pertaining to the project, NYSDOT has decided not to move forward with it at this time,” Karas said in a statement, using the agency’s acronym.

The commissioner said the agency “conducted a high-level review to assess the technical and financial feasibility of constructing” either a bridge or tunnel to cross the Sound. It would have run from Long Island to either Westchester County or Connecticut.

He didn’t elaborate on the outcome of that review. An agency spokesman said no further statement would be made Thursday.

The project, proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in January, had raised concerns because of its price tag ($55 billion), the necessity for it, and the possible disruption to local communities. Earlier this month, Town of Oyster Bay officials encouraged residents to fight the proposal.

In a sign of growing opposition, local officials gave an hourlong presentation, outlining the possible negative impacts: an increased tax burden, disrupted aquifers and even 10-story-high tunnel vents. They also encouraged residents to contact Cuomo’s office via phone, letter or internet, and to use social media to spread the word about their opposition.

Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino told the audience the project would “devastate our suburban quality of life.”

“We knew this was the wrong project and we knew it would have devastated our communities,” Saladino said Thursday after the decision was announced. “There were so many people – elected officials, community leaders, regular residents -- who came together as one team” to voice opposition.

“Quite frankly, I appreciate the governor for seeing this was not the right project,” he added.

Linda Henninger, president of the Kings Park Civic Association said: “This is certainly welcome news. This project was fiscally and environmentally unsound.”

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said in a statement: “We’re pleased with the decision of the acting DOT commissioner and commend the governor for his foresight. There are so many wonderful opportunities for us to collaborate together with the state... The people were heard and that is what matters at the end of the day.”

Various governors have proposed a Sound crossing, via either bridge or tunnel, going back to the 1930s.

Cuomo included the proposal as part of his wish list in the governor’s annual State of the State address. In January, he expressed support for a tunnel.

“We should continue to pursue a tunnel from Long Island to Westchester or Connecticut,” the governor said. “It would be under water, it would be invisible, it would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway, and would offer significant potential private investment.”

Days later, a consulting firm submitted a study estimating the cost of the project from $31 billion to $55 billion. It suggested a crossing would be viable only from Oyster Bay Town to Westchester or from Kings Park to Connecticut.

Despite the opposition at community forums, Cuomo had continued to express support as recently as 24 hours before the announcement that the project would be dropped. He said something needed to be done about Long Island’s “traffic nightmare.”

“But, long term, we have to improve mass transit, which we’re doing, but you also need to find a way to move vehicular traffic better, and we’re studying options,” Cuomo said. “We have no specific option at this time. We’re just studying a number of options.”

With Ted Phillips and Nick Spangler

Crossing the Sound: A history

1938: New York Sen. Royal S. Copeland proposes an 18-mile bridge from Orient Point that would pass across Plum, Gull and Fishers islands, ending in Groton, Connecticut, or Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Engineering studies were begun, but Copeland, chairman of the Senate's Commerce Committee, died that same year and the project was abandoned.

1957: Charles H. Sells, a former state superintendent of public works, proposed two bridges — Orient Point to Watch Hill and Oyster Bay to Rye-Port Chester. Gov. W. Averell Harriman stops the project.

1966: Master builder Robert Moses proposes a $100 million-plus Oyster Bay-Port Chester bridge that he intended to be part of a beltway around New York City. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller supported the plan but faced heavy opposition and eventually abandoned it.

1979: Gov. Hugh Carey formed a tristate commission that looked at five bridges leaving from Wading River, Riverhead, East Marion, Orient Point and Port Jefferson, the top choice. But the report concluded that expanding ferry service would be better.

2007: Garden City developer Vincent Polimeni proposed a privately funded $13 billion 16-mile link from Route 135 in Syosset to the intersection of I-95 and I-287 in Rye.

January 2018: State Department of Transportation releases an 87-page study saying a cross-Sound tunnel was feasible and would cost between $31.5 billion and $55.4 billion

Thursday: Paul Karas, acting commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, releases statement saying “after careful review of a variety of considerations pertaining to the project, NYSDOT has decided not to move forward with it at this time.”

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