By Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott
The idea of building a bridge from Long Island to our shores is not a new one. Back in the late 1960s, “master builder” Robert Moses, with support from Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, proposed a bridge from Oyster Bay to Rye to alleviate congestion on the Long Island Expressway.
Rye Mayor Ed Grainger, realizing that this was not going to be the “gossamer thread across the Sound” as Moses described it, worked with his counterpart in Oyster Bay, and stunningly stopped Moses in his tracks in 1973.
Fast forward to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address last month in which he mentioned that a tunnel across the Sound was “feasible”. He went on to describe it as “underwater” and “invisible”. In fact, Mr. Cuomo’s administration had already been instructed to allot $5 million for the Department of Transportation to study such a project.
The results of the feasibility study by WSP, a global tunnel and bridge design firm, are in. One of their three recommendations, at a cost of $53 billion, is for the tunnel to begin in Oyster Bay and end in Rye. WSP estimates 113,000 would cross every day.
We stopped a bridge, and we will stop the tunnel was the immediate response from many local officials.
Rye Mayor Josh Cohn said, “The threat to our community and those in all of mid-Westchester is great. Traffic, already stopped dead at certain hours on I-95 and I-287, would be unimaginable. And there would be spillover on our surface streets.” Cohn added, “And knowing that tunnel traffic would be letting out here would be discouraging to potential homebuyers and current homeowners.” At the most recent City Council meeting, Cohn recommended a committee be formed to stay on top of the issue and the motion was unanimously approved.
State Assemblyman Steve Otis, who was mayor of Rye for 12 years, said he is confident that the tunnel proposal will recede into the background, as a previous plan did when he was mayor. “The key thing that will convince the state not to go further is an updated study, yet to be done, on traffic volume. The traffic on our highways is already challenging at best. And no matter where a tunnel from Long Island lets out, it will have major consequences on the entire Sound Shore.”
Otis told the paper that at the State Budget hearing two weeks ago, he asked NYS DOT to conduct such a traffic volume analysis “as part of any future studies and they expressed support.”
County Executive George Latimer noted that Rye and Port Chester residents and officials of both parties have long opposed any trans-Sound crossing, whether it’s a bridge or a tunnel. In his view, “The tunnel is not a realistic, cost-effective project; we have many more important capital projects that deserve our limited capital resources. As this study advances over time, I believe decision makers will see the costs outweighing any projected benefit.” In addition to traffic concerns, he said, “the impact on our local roadways, our homes, and our business community will be well documented in any study yet to be conducted.”
Lest residents aren’t worried that the Governor is moving the proposal forward, it’s worth noting that on January 26 DOT issued a Request for Expressions of Interest in the project.
Just last week, City of Rye announced that a new street is being named Grainger Way to honor the late mayor for his role in stopping the bridge to Rye. Imagine what the community would do to recognize the man or woman who stopped the proposed tunnel.