A Long Island Sound Crossing – Will This Bridge or Tunnel Ever Be Built?
June 11, 2018
For many decades, Long Islanders have been hearing about proposals to span over or under Long Island Sound. The most recent pronouncement for a cross-sound tunnel or bridge came from Governor Cuomo in his 2016 state-of-state address. This was followed by a report released by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) in December 2017 (LI Sound Report) which examined the feasibility and regional benefits of a Long Island Sound crossing. More on this proposal later in this post. But first, a review of prior proposals.
According to the 2017 LI Sound Report, the first cross-sound proposal originated in the 1930s. That proposal involved an eighteen-mile bridge going from Orient Point to either Groton, CT or Watch Hill, RI. It faded from consideration upon the death of the senator championing the bridge and the start of World War II.
In the 1950s, another proposal involved two bridges, one from Oyster Bay to Rye/Port Chester and the other from Orient Point to Watch Hill, RI. Governor Harriman put the kibosh on this proposal due to its cost and low traffic predictions. (Clearly, not the most accurate traffic study ever done!)
During the 1960s, several proposals were floated, including one that would have extended the Long Island Expressway 30 miles from Riverhead to Orient Point and constructed two bridges from Orient Point going to New London, CT and Naptree Point, RI. Neither bridge was built and the LIE still terminates in Riverhead. In the mid-1960s, uber-road builder, Robert Moses, proposed constructing a 6.1 mile bridge from Oyster Bay to Port Chester, with a price tag of about $100 million. Although initially supported by Governor Rockefeller, the proposal ran into difficulties with then-new environmental impact study requirements. In 1968, a proposal to build two bridges, one between Oyster Bay and Rye and the other between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport, was considered. While the bridges were believed to be economically feasible, and would reduce the enormous increase in east-west traffic, this proposal also did not move forward.
The 1972 Long Island Sound Crossing project, which included realignments of the Long Island Expressway in Syosset and Route 95 in Rye, ran into local opposition and Governor Rockefeller stepped in and killed the project. In 1979, another proposal considered five different locations for a cross-sound bridge. The expected cost was $1.4 billion. The proposal ran out of gas when one study determined that a ferry would be better than a bridge to cross the Sound.
In 2008, the Polimeni/Long Island Cross Sound Link Tunnel proposal called for the construction of a 16-mile, three-tube, six-lane tunnel. Estimated to cost about $10-$13 billion, it ultimately failed due to waning state support and the economic recession.
The Latest Proposal
This leads us to the most recent proposal. While the 2017 LI Sound Report looked at several options, it ended up recommending that five possible alignments should be further evaluated. These include two options for a western alignment, from Oyster Bay to Rye/Port Chester, for a bridge only or bridge/tunnel combination, and three options for a central alignment, from Kings Park to Bridgeport or Devon, for bridge only and two different bridge and tunnel connections. The 2017 LI Sound Report also looked at a third alignment, called the eastern alignment, from Wading River to New Haven or Branford, but was rejected as not meeting the project’s goals. These goals include decreasing travel time, decreasing congestion, improving air quality, expanding labor markets, improving evacuation off of Long Island and improving freight movement.
The 2017 LI Sound Report looked at engineering considerations of what would be one of the largest projects of its type in the world. Essentially – can this project be built? The study also evaluated environmental considerations, including impacts to wetland, waterbodies, groundwater, ecology, natural resources, critical environmental areas, farmland, air quality climate change, noise, asbestos and hazardous wastes. The study also looked at capital and financial considerations, including the estimated cost to build the project ($55 billion), the demand for the crossing and possible tolls that would be charged for its use.
The release of the 2017 LI Sound Report in December 2017 was followed up in January 2018 by a Request for Expressions of Interest issued by the NYSDOT (RFEI). The RFEI requested input for all aspects of the proposal, with the ultimate goal of issuing a Request for Proposal to build the project in the future. It is reported that six major developers responded to the RFEI.
The Reaction To The Proposal
Business groups such as the Long Island Association and the Long Island Builders Institute noted that the project deserved serious consideration and could help alleviate Long Island’s massive traffic issues. Not unexpectedly, local politicians and residents from Bayville, Syosset, Ashaorken, Brookville, Lattingtown, Sea Cliff, Lloyd Harbor, Oyster Bay, Upper Brookville and other local communities voiced strenuous objections to this project. Among other issues, the residents and politicians claim that the tunnel’s ventilation/exhaust and emergency access systems would adversely impact air quality, would increase traffic congestion in their neighborhoods, would contaminate the groundwater and cause other environmental catastrophes. Community meetings are being held across Long Island by the opponents of the project. The next one is scheduled for June 14th in Syosset.
While the project will undergo multiple years of further study before being built, and is proposed by a Governor who has been instrumental in replacing aging infrastructure with new state-of-the-art structures that others said would never be built (e.g., the Tappen Zee Bridge), it will be interesting to see if the Long Island Sound Crossing Project gets built or becomes another proposal that is DOA on the drawing board.