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Green light at the end of the tunnel?

A rendering of a tunnel under Long Island

A rendering of a tunnel under Long Island Sound proposed a decade ago by the late developer Vincent Polimeni. Credit: Polimeni International

The state Department of Transportation has just released a study on a proposed Long Island Sound tunnel. Not surprisingly, it found the project can be done.

In truth, the challenge to building a Long Island Sound tunnel isn’t technical. The engineering on this multibillion-dollar proposal was researched and presented publicly by my commercial real estate firm nearly a decade ago.

Nor is the challenge environmental. The benefits of capturing tons of truck and automotive emissions in a tunnel that would scrub the particulates out of the air was as obvious to then-Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion when we briefed him on this plan as it was to Long Island residents who live along the Long Island Expressway.

In addition, the strategic need for such an artery was reinforced after the Throgs Neck Bridge’s three-alarm fire in 2009, which temporarily reduced Long Island’s ability to move people and products to 2.7 million residents.

The issues nearly 10 years ago, as now, are the political will to build the tunnel and how to pay for it.

When we conceived this project in 2007, we named it the Sound Link Tunnel. Our studies showed it could carry vehicles beneath the Long Island Sound from Route 135 in Nassau County to the intersection of Interstates 287 and 95 in Rye. The project would comprise two tunnels, each with three lanes of traffic, and a third tube for maintenance and light rail.

We studied the geology of the Sound, and experts offered an in-depth review of state-of-the-art boring technology that would do the job. We also looked closely at the entrances, realizing they needed to remain within New York State because Connecticut had no interest in authorizing a portal.

We examined every facet of the tunnel’s construction, while reviewing how construction debris would be trucked out. We even studied human physiology in driving through a very long tunnel.

What we couldn’t answer then was whether New York State was prepared to participate in a public-private partnership that would allow us to recoup the millions of dollars we spent on investigating the proposal. Nor could we answer whether the occupant of the governor’s mansion would share our vision or offer the type of political leadership that would make Gen. George S. Patton blush.

Initially briefed on this proposal when he was state attorney general, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has since become the infrastructure governor. The Mario Cuomo Bridge is spanning the Hudson because of the governor’s focus. The Second Avenue Subway was bludgeoned into finally opening in 2016 because of his tenacity. The Long Island Rail Road third-track project is happening because of his persuasive carrots and sticks to produce the consensus to proceed.

So it is equally possible that as the governor positions himself for re-election this year, he will move toward creating a viable public-private partnership to fund the tunnel. He need not look far, as one of the transportation problem solvers is Metropolitan Transportation Authority President Pat Foye. As executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Foye used such a partnership to rebuild the Goethals Bridge at a cost of $1.5 billion.

While it is clear Long Island needs a tunnel, and there hasn’t been as forceful an advocate for public works since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Cuomo is going to need to go beyond engineering reviews, environmental benefits and geological analysis to move forward, or his study will join our study as a thoughtful, expensive, but ultimately academic review of what to build, how and why.

Michael Polimeni is chief executive of Polimeni International, which proposed the road and rail tunnel linking Long Island to Westchester County.