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Tunnel proposal faces heat in Jericho

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When Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino was a boy, his father, Joseph, was a town councilman. The supervisor told an audience of roughly 800 at Jericho High School on Monday that he could still remember people coming to his house carrying signs showing their opposition to a cross-Sound tunnel to Westchester County. When he asked his father why, Saldino recalled, “Dad said, ‘They don’t want their communities destroyed, they don’t want the problems of tremendous traffic, the potential for more crime and the impact it will have on the bay.’”

That was in the 1970s. The idea of creating a Sound crossing by way of a tunnel, bridge, or both, has been broached nine other times over the years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the latest proposal on Jan. 5, in his State of the State address. “We have to think bold,” he said. “We have to think big. We are New Yorkers. There is nothing we can’t do.”

The newest tunnel design is an 18-mile-long multi-level tube with two lanes on each level. It would stretch for nine miles under the Long Island Sound, and for the other nine miles underground, on the North Shore and in Westchester. The entrances and exits would be north of the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway and Jericho Turnpike, and south of the New England Thruway and Playland Parkway. The project, with an estimated cost of $31.5 billion, would take 12 to 15 years to complete.

The Town of Oyster Bay committed to hosting the third tunnel public information meeting on Monday because Saladino said people needed to know how the tunnel would affect their lives. “It is my belief and the belief of the Oyster Bay Town Board that this project would have many negative impacts on the communities within our town,” the supervisor said. “And it poses significant risks to all of Long Island and to our state.”

The tunnel would create a tremendous influx of traffic, especially from diesel trucks, as well as the attendant air pollution, and would destroy the aquifer that people on the North Shore depend on for drinking water, Saladino said. “It will devastate our suburban quality of life. I think you can probably tell that I’m not on the fence on this project.”

The Village of Bayville Anti-Tunnel Committee then shared a PowerPoint presentation it had brought to two other meetings, in Bayville and Locust Valley.

Rena Bologna, a former Bayville deputy mayor and a member of the committee, offered a warning. “I’m hoping you realize this project is moving forward and, to be stopped, will require constant effort,” she said. “Construction would begin with the state seizing property through eminent domain, and tearing down homes and businesses, and this would begin in 2023, upon completion of an environmental impact study which begins this September.”

Committee member Jen Jones addressed the governor’s belief that adding the tunnel would reduce traffic on Long Island. “A tunnel will not relieve traffic,” she said. “Induced demand. That’s the theory that the more roadways you create, the more vehicles will come out to drive on them until there is just as much congestion as before.”

Peter Janow, the executive director of another group, the Coalition Against an Unsound Crossing, said plans are in the works for advertising on television, on radio and in print to stop the tunnel.

Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who represents the 18th District, which includes Bayville and Oyster Bay, has attended all of the anti-tunnel meetings. He encouraged people to unite. “Building a tunnel through the heart of this district will make the millennials run even faster,” Lafazan said, adding that people need to remain vigilant in the fight against the project.

Although it appeared during the public comment period that most people were against the tunnel, a Glen Cove resident expressed his support for it. “Try getting over the Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges,” Richard Schultz said. “The cars and trucks are all lined up. I’ve always been for a bridge to Connecticut to get off this island. We are landlocked here.”