Why the Long Island Tunnel Isn’t Going to Happen

0:00       Despite the rising chatter about a new plan for a cross-Sound link between Westchester and Long Island, a study commissioned by […]

Published June 5, 2018 2:13 PM
2 min read

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Despite the rising chatter about a new plan for a cross-Sound link between Westchester and Long Island, a study commissioned by the Department of Transportation shows that Rye and Oyster Bay are more at risk from asteroid hits than tunnel excavators.

 

The report concludes that routes to either Rye/Port Chester or Bridgeport are feasible. Connecticut won’t play, so Governor Cuomo has focused on the Rye/Oyster Bay option. He knows a bridge is a non-starter, so is only talking about a tunnel. The tunnel would run 18 miles underground from the end of I-287, under Oyster Bay, to I-495 mid-island.

 

However, the only viable configuration is prohibitively expensive. It requires two tubes each featuring three traffic lanes. That’s $55 billion. Think 14 Tappan Zee Bridge replacements at $4 billion each. Recognizing how crazy that number is, the consultant offers a cramped one-tube alternative – two lanes each way stacked on top of each other with no breakdown lane, running underground for 18 miles. For a mere $32 billion, you can buy a humongous underground traffic jam whenever someone has a flat tire. And the report acknowledges that the stacked alternative would require “longer transitions” from I-287 and I-95 in Rye, “where space is limited,” so would require “detailed study.” That’s consultant-ese for “fugeddaboudit.”

 

Not so keen on tunnel-light, the consultant offers another solution: run tunnels into the Sound from both shores for a mile, then join them with a six-mile bridge rising in the middle of the Sound. That costs only $44 billion, knocking $12 billion off the tab. But you get the worst of both worlds – a massive bridge in the Sound, plus the huge costs of tunneling for 12 miles.

 

So only the $55-billion two-tube, all-tunnel option is viable. But tolls can’t pay for it. Even on the report’s rosy assumptions, annual toll revenue would be about $550 million. That assumes commuters would pay $20-$25 each way, triple what the Whitestone/Throgs Neck alternatives cost. Just how many commuters would spend $1,000 a month to use the tunnel? Even if the demand is there, the report acknowledges that tolls would cover only about 22% of the $2.5 billion annual cost of servicing $50 billion of 40-year debt at 4% interest.  

 

So, who pays the $55 billion? Not users, even with tolls triple the price of competing bridges. The consultant invokes “public-private partnership,” but points out that only about $1 billion or so could be raised from private financing. Uncle Sam? Unlikely. That leaves New York taxpayers. Hmmm.

 

It’s obvious that once the focus turns to funding, the tunnel goes nowhere. But it’s an election year, and elections cost money. So, the chatter continues.

 

  • Mitch Berns

 

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