Vincent Polimeni, a commercial developer who six years ago proposed and pushed for building a road and rail tunnel linking Long Island to Westchester, died Saturday.

The Centre Island resident, whose firm Polimeni International LLC developed major retail and office real estate projects from Port Jefferson to Poland, was 70. His family said he had been suffering a "debilitating illness."

He was sitting in a Warsaw restaurant in 2007, next to contractors discussing the Chunnel undersea rail tunnel between England and France, when he envisioned his most ambitious idea: the Cross Sound Link.

The $13-billion project would connect Oyster Bay to Rye with a 16-mile, privately owned and operated tunnel under Long Island Sound. For a proposed cost of $25 each way, motorists could reduce the time of a 45-mile trip by nearly two-thirds by avoiding congested New York City roads and bridges.

Polimeni put together a team of investors and spent millions of dollars conducting engineering and environmental studies for the project, which he promoted as not only feasible, but necessary for the future of Long Island.

"It made sense. . . . The need was obviously there," his son, Michael Polimeni, of Locust Valley, said Monday. "He recognized that . . . what we do stays in a community indefinitely. He had a real sense of responsibility about that."

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The Cross Sound Link, which found support among planning groups but some scrutiny from elected officials, ultimately stalled in the state approval stages three years ago.

Polimeni, who grew up in Brooklyn and served three years in the U.S. Air Force, first got excited about real estate while installing carpeting in a law office handling a property deal, his son said. Years later, he married his wife, Joan, and went to work as a broker for her father's real estate agency.

He later founded his Garden City firm and first made a name for himself in the commercial real estate industry with the development of the 400,000-square-foot Islandia Shopping Center in 1991.

Other large development projects followed, including a 250,000-square-foot office pavilion in Mineola and the 150,000-square-foot MacArthur Plaza in Holbrook. Polimeni also took special pride in several shopping centers he built in underdeveloped parts of Poland, his son said.

Over his nearly 40-year career, Polimeni held numerous posts, including co-chairman of the Dean's Executive Council for the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University, member of the board of directors of the YMCA Long Island Inc., and chairman of the Long Island Power Authority's finance committee.

"I can't think of anyone who so relished the art of the deal," said Ed Blumenfeld, president of the Blumenfeld Development Group, of Syosset, and, with Polimeni, a founding member of the Association for a Better Long Island. "Yet, he stood firm on principles that reminded you he was never about the bottom line."

In addition to his wife and son, Polimeni is survived by his brother, Ralph Polimeni, of Roslyn; daughters Jennifer Ganz and Rebecca Polimeni, both of Cold Spring Harbor; and three grandchildren.

A wake will be held Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Donohue-Cecere Funeral Directors in Westbury. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to Autism Speaks at