Go ahead, pinch yourself. We understand.
Long Island, you had concluded, never will escape the hidebound thinking that has made this region so stagnant. You’ve seen generations of forward-looking planners derided for their aspirations, while Long Island falls further behind other suburbs and cities that successfully remake themselves. And now you’re puzzled. You suddenly see a host of projects on the horizon that promise to change Long Island — forever and for the better.
You’re not dreaming.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has outlined an ambitious plan to transform the region’s transportation network and help revitalize its economy. And unlike the initiatives of the last master builder, Long Island’s own Robert Moses, Cuomo is doing this by getting people out of their cars, or at least reducing the amount of time they spend in them.
To all that we say: It’s about time.
Time to think big and build big and reinvent Long Island again.
By planning and starting work quickly, Cuomo is putting down markers. Once underway, projects are harder to abandon. His plan includes a customs facility for international flights at Long Island MacArthur Airport, a long-overdue expansion of the Long Island Rail Road, and even a motor-vehicle tunnel under Long Island Sound. His vision is on the mark.
Questions about funding — the projects are part of a sweeping $22 billion multiyear capital plan for the entire state — must be answered, which Cuomo plans to do in his State of the State speech on Wednesday. Follow-through is critical. He pitched an AirTrain connection from LaGuardia Airport to the LIRR at Willets Point a year ago; we’ve heard little since.
He also must overcome opposition that already is rising. But it’s a weakened strand of NIMBYism. Long Islanders increasingly understand that reflexively saying no stymies this region. Of course, we can move railroad tracks a few feet to build a third track in Nassau County, and add sound barriers. Of course, we can dig a tunnel under the Sound; it’s being done now to run trains under the East and Hudson rivers. Many of these opponents last year wanted the state’s bank settlement money to be spent on infrastructure. That’s still a good idea.
Cuomo’s rebuild includes:
n LIRR expansion. A third track of 9.8 miles between Floral Park and Hicksville would reduce delays by adding a bypass, offer more service from Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal and from Grand Central Terminal via the East Side Access project, and expand reverse commuting, allowing Long Island employers to recruit skilled workers in high-tech industries from across New York City. The new plan minimizes the number of houses that would lose property and the amount of property they would lose, and compensates them for that. That should blunt the fiercest opposition from years past; but the LIRR must plan so it disrupts each community for the shortest time possible.
n Federal inspection station for MacArthur Airport. It would bring international flights filled with business people, tourists and their dollars, and generate connecting flights for those visitors to other parts of the country. Long Islanders finally could reach those destinations from their home airport, too.
n Long Island Sound tunnel. While studying where to put it, Cuomo also should explore including a rail tunnel. Superstorm Sandy showed the need for more exits off Long Island. A tunnel also would dramatically reduce drive times, and let Long Islanders hop a train to, say, Boston, without having to go into New York City.
n Deepwater port in Shoreham. Cuomo plans to study the concept. A port would let goods be more easily shipped to and from Long Island, haul off the region’s garbage, and reduce truck traffic.
n LaGuardia Airport renovation. Long Islanders who use the decrepit facility know how badly this is needed, and would be able to leave their cars home should the proposed monorail happen.
n Penn Station renovation. A revitalized hub — including natural light, better bathrooms and restaurants, and a renovated Farley Post Office — will enhance daily travel for thousands of Island commuters.
n Gateway Project. A new tunnel under the Hudson to replace one that’s rapidly deteriorating will maintain this vital rail link between New York and points west.
n Other projects good for Long Island: the new Tappan Zee Bridge, whose bones are rising over the Hudson right now, and the expansion and improvement of the city’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which hosts events such as the boat show.
The plan would put today’s Long Islanders on a faster track into and out of New York City, help revitalize the economy in years to come, and give our grandchildren less road congestion and a quicker route to New England.
The plan is partly about establishing a legacy for Cuomo as a guy who got big things done; so far he’s on the right path. Long Island, and New York, need this.
Let’s do it. Let’s do it right. Identify the specific sources of funding and spend the money wisely. Award and execute the projects honestly. Prioritize efficiency and finish quickly. Be transparent every step of the way. That is the way to beat back the scattered howls of opposition.
Some of our leaders remain mired in the past. But many Long Islanders sense things are changing. More to the point, they sense things have to change.
This is the time. Let’s go big.