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How can we transform Long Island for the future?

The lighthouse just before sunrise at Montauk Point.

The lighthouse just before sunrise at Montauk Point. (June 21, 2010) Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

How would you transform Long Island?

Your budget is $550 million.

The opportunity is unprecedented.

The money comes from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's new budget and the furious efforts of Long Island's delegation in the State Senate and its business leaders.

There are two pots of money -- $150 million from bank settlements stemming from the mortgage fraud scandals, and $400 million in general funds. But there is one purpose: "transformative" economic development.

State officials don't want us to pitch a bunch of pet projects with no relation to one another, as we often do. They want one integrated plan.

This is a lot of money. So think big.

What do we want Long Island to look like in 20 years? How do we get there?

This money won't take us all the way, but it can start us down the road.

Let's build some things and study others. Let's not disparage and reflexively say no to bold ideas. Let's not limit our vision. And let's acknowledge that changes must be made, because standing still means falling behind. In China, they're talking about drilling a rail tunnel under Mount Everest to Nepal to boost tourism and trade, and another tunnel 130 miles long under the Bering Strait as part of a China-to-United States bullet train that would pass through Russia on the way. That's big.

Long Island's leaders will prepare their pitch to the state in coming weeks. They should focus on four areas that define Long Island: transportation, housing, the economy and the environment. They're intertwined; improve one and you improve at least one other.


A high-speed monorail. It's been talked about since the 1960s, when master planner Lee Koppelman envisioned it running down the center of the Long Island Expressway and connecting with New York City's subway system. Fewer cars and faster commutes, especially from eastern Long Island, would be a win for everybody.

A deepwater port. The bones exist at the old nuclear plant in Shoreham. Add a rail connection along William Floyd Parkway to a new Long Island Rail Road station in Yaphank, a short hop from the Brookhaven Rail Terminal, and put a stop on the new line at Brookhaven National Lab. It would stimulate commerce, take trucks off our roads and open BNL to many more scientists who would commute from the city.

A tunnel. Yup, the one to Westchester. Or Connecticut. That's better than the bridge Robert Moses envisioned at the end of Route 135. Loved or loathed by so many, a tunnel is a no-brainer for giving us another vital connection to the mainland. And it would ease traffic on our busiest east-west roads. Where to put it? Let's study that.

High-speed ferries. We're an island choked with cars; is this an alternative? They could zip into the city, out to the East End, or along the South Shore from Long Beach to Freeport to Babylon. Can our car culture be remade?

The third track. From Floral Park to Hicksville, it's an economic game-changer that would expand reverse commuting and offer better schedules. It's a Metropolitan Transportation Authority project, but could some money be used to buy the parcels needed to build the extra line?


Workforce housing. We need it, especially for the young. Build a modest, modern version of Levittown -- small affordable homes, and give first-time buyers some mortgage help that becomes grants if they stay 10 years. Or help developers with the tough economics by kicking in for roads and sewers. Or give schools extra support for any added kids. We must keep skilled millennials here, and if in targeting the young we build more integrated communities, all the better.

Downtown parking garages. They free up space for housing, true transit-oriented housing, which helps revitalize downtowns. It's working in some places already. We can build off that success.


Intellectual infrastructure. Amazing work is being done at research institutions such as Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven labs, Stony Brook and Hofstra universities, and the North Shore-LIJ Health System's Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Turning their innovations into successful bio-tech businesses would boost our economy by replacing high-paying defense industry jobs that left long ago. New facilities -- whether it's an engineering building at Hofstra, a supercomputing building at Stony Brook or a therapeutic cancer discovery center at Cold Spring Harbor -- will help that process.


Outfall pipe. A pipe from the Bay Park sewage treatment system out some 2.5 miles into the Atlantic Ocean would protect Nassau County's South Shore and bring marine life back to the western bays ecosystem, which also would help the local economy. The state has a financial role to play but Nassau also must pay its share.

Suffolk sewers. The more, the better. They deliver multiple benefits -- cleaner water, shoreline protection, revitalized fisheries. And they can unlock the potential of stagnant downtowns.


We've never seen a blank check this size. The moment is unlikely to come our way again. It's time to rise to the occasion, not shrink in its face.

Enough trash talk about Long Island's future. We can make it better than our present. We know what ails us. Before, we lacked the resources to change it. Do we still lack the will?

Let's seize this opportunity and get started.

This is Long Island. What do you want it to be?


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