Who would pay for a new Long Island Sound crossing?
“Latest rail plan would put a tunnel under Long Island Sound” is nothing new. Only the cost and time needed to complete the project has gone up. It appears to have grown to $100 billion over twenty years.
Five years ago Governor Andrew Cuomo announced supporting a five million dollar study to look at the feasibility of constructing a tunnel from Long Island to either the Bronx, Westchester or Connecticut. This concept of a new cross Island Sound tunnel has previously been considered for decades, but deemed unfeasible. The late Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman Robert Moses paid for a $150,000 study in 1964. It was performed by the firm Madigan-Hyland to study the feasibility of a bridge across the sound. Results of the study were released to the Nassau and Suffolk Regional Planning Board in February 1966. The Oyster Bay – Rye Bridge (originally the Bayville – Rye Bridge) was proposed to complete the Interstate 287 beltway around the New York Metropolitan Area. This was to be done by constructing a 6.1-mile-long cable suspension bridge from the Cross Westchester (I-287) Expressway in Rye to the Seaford – Oyster Bay Expressway (NY 135) in Nassau County. The estimated cost in 1966 dollars for the proposed bridge was $150 million. (It would be billions in today’s dollars) The idea died due to local community opposition and law suits. The same would be true today. Property condemnation at either end to support either a bridge or tunnel including connections to existing roads could displace thousands of residents and businesses. By the time all the court cases would be resolved, it could take years and cost billions.
Governor Cuomo referenced his new proposed bridge and/or tunnel from Queens or Nassau County to Westchester County or Connecticut during his 2018 State of the State speech. He conveniently forget at the time to share the detailed results of this $5 million study. The estimated cost for the Gateway Tunnel which would connect New Jersey with Penn Station is $29 billion. Crossing Long Island Sound would be a far greater distance than the Hudson River. One recommendation from his study was a 18 mile tunnel from Rye or Port Chester to Oyster Bay with a cost between $31.5 and $55.4 billion! Another concept is some sort of combination tunnel and bridge between Kings Park to Bridgeport Connecticut with a cost between $13 and $32 billion. Imagine the final cost of either concept if and when completed decades later! Any guess what the toll would be to pay off bonds used for financing? Try $20, $30 or $40 each way when opened in 2042 or later. Proposed construction of a new Cross Island Sound Tunnel also has been previously studied by various other planning and transportation agencies going back decades. The proposed Amtrak high speed route would run along the Long Island Rail Road Main Line Third Track (which is located between the Floral Park and Hicksville LIRR stations in Nassau County). The ongoing construction of the $2.6 billion MTA LIRR Main Line Third Track project was not designed to support Amtrak high speed service. There would also be serious operational conflicts between Amtrak and LIRR on this corridor. The LIRR has committed to increase service by 40% upon completion of the LIRR Eastside Access to Grand Central Terminal scheduled to start in December 2022..
Even Governor Cuomo was smart enough not to include the Long Island Sound bridge or tunnel project as part of his $306 billion transportation infrastructure program as part of his recent 2020 State of the State speech. .
Every year, millions of dollars are spent for planning studies to research the potential for new transportation capital investments and system expansion. This includes Cuomo’s own NYS Department of Transportation and NYS Empire State Development Corporation, state sponsored Metropolitan Planning Organizations in every major urbanized area including the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) which serves New York City; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority along with each operating agency including NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road and MTA Bus; NYC Department of Transportation, NYC Department of City Planning and NYC Economic Development Corporation as well as the Regional Planning Association and other private entities. They all periodically conduct transportation planning feasibility studies. Collectively, every decade a complete inventory of all these agencies would reveal, that dozens and dozens of transportation studies worth close to $100 million in costs have been completed.
Funding for these studies comes from a variety of sources including city, state and federal. Has anyone ever taken a complete inventory of all these studies? Have they checked out the recommendations, estimated project costs, time line for implementation and identification of potential funding sources for going forward? Who checks to see that one study is not just a duplication of a previous study for the same issue?
Too many transportation studies championed by numerous elected officials are nothing more than placebos designed to placate demagogues, who are not regular users of the numerous public transportation alternatives that have been available for decades.
The real problem is finding money to make things happen. All too often funding for many studies would have been better spent on real capital and operating service improvements to maintain safety and a state of good repair, instead of just lining the pockets of consultants. How many studies end up on the shelf of planners just collecting dust? How many times do we end up with a series of press conferences and news releases designed to provide free publicity for elected officials to assist them in greasing the wheels of future elections. These same elected officials promise a bright future but leave riders holding an empty bag.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, Staten Island Rail Road, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ
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