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Lawmakers approve oversight board for proposed bullet train through Long Island

An artist's rendering of the North Atlantic Rail

An artist's rendering of the North Atlantic Rail proposal. Credit: SHoP Architects

A proposal to build a $105 billion high-speed rail network that would cross Nassau and Suffolk counties, with a tunnel under the Long Island Sound, has cleared an early hurdle in Congress, as lawmakers this week approved who would oversee the project.

The transportation reauthorization bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday includes an amendment authored by the Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) calling for the creation of the North Atlantic Rail Interstate Compact. Its purpose, according to the legislation, "shall be to construct, on an accelerated basis" the new rail system stretching from New York City to Boston.

The bill calls for the appointment of a board of directors for the project, with members appointed by the governors of the seven states through which the rail system would operate, by Amtrak, and by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The proposal calls for the excavation of several rail tunnels in the region, including under the East River to Penn Station, through parts of Queens and Long Island, and from Port Jefferson, across the Long Island Sound, to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bullet trains would reach speeds of up to 200 mph.

"We have federal legitimacy," said David Kapell, the former Greenport mayor who is part of the team lobbying for the project. "It’s no longer pie in the sky. This is a moon shot that has lifted off."

Though the project has picked up considerable support by elected leaders — including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who co-chairs its steering committee — it still has a ways to go. The proposal would require approvals by each of the states affected and by the federal government.

The effort, whose projected price tag is 10 times the size of the MTA’s East Side Access megaproject, also needs to be funded. Project officials are hoping for a piece of the tentative $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal on the table in Washington. It earmarks $66 billion for rail projects in the United States.

Weighing in publicly on the project for the first time, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Friday that she is "very interested to see what happens with this down in Washington."

"Anything that gets more money for public transportation here on Long Island, I am for," Curran said.

The House surface transportation bill, known as the "INVEST in America Act," still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden. The bill calls for $715 billion in spending on roads, bridges and transit.

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