Developer Proposes World’s Longest Highway Tunnel in N.Y.

Wed February 06, 2008 - National Edition
Frank Eltman - ASSOCIATED PRESS



OYSTER BAY, N.Y. (AP) It would be the world’s longest highway tunnel — a more than 16-mi. (25.7 km) stretch under Long Island Sound that could help ease the chronic traffic congestion on New York’s clogged highways.

The estimated price tag on the tunnel is $10 billion — and it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. A developer wants to build the tunnel with private money, recouping his costs by charging drivers $25 each way to cross the tunnel and by selling advertising, including the possibility of selling the naming rights.

While not expected to be completed before 2025, the tunnel project received renewed attention recently when a state Senate committee held a hearing about the proposal.

The developer, Vincent Polimeni, admitted his proposal was initially met with “smirks and skepticism.’’ But he added, “the more people looked at the plan, the larger the circle of intrigued citizens who said, ’tell me more.’’’

The tunnel also brought back memories of Robert Moses, the modern icon of municipal planners, who was rebuffed in his bid to build a bridge over Long Island Sound three decades ago. Moses was savaged by officials on Long Island over the project.

“Considering that we’re on Long Island, I’m amazed they didn’t run me out of the room,’’ Polimeni cracked during a recess at the hearing. “I think it’s a good sign.’’

Polimeni, a longtime developer of malls and office buildings in the New York area and who has done the same in cities across Poland for the past decade, said the tunnel would help alleviate traffic congestion and give travelers between Long Island and New England an option that eliminates the need to traverse New York City.

State Sen. Carl L. Marcellino, who lives just blocks from where the southern terminus of the proposed tunnel would be built, was among the skeptics but has not indicated whether he will support the proposal. He noted that despite being privately funded, “there will be approvals required from governmental entities before this thing can go forward.’’

Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. is lending its investment banking advice to Polimeni, who has paid $250,000 out of his own pocket for engineering studies.

Polimeni also has employed the engineering and construction firm Hatch Mott MacDonald, a company that has been involved in tunnel projects worldwide, including the “Chunnel’’ that connects Great Britain and France via rail.

At between 16 and 18 mi. (25.7 and 29 km), depending on final design specifications, the Long Island Sound project would eclipse the 15.2-mi. (24.5 km) Laerdal Tunnel in Norway as the world’s longest highway tunnel.

It would consist of two tubes that would convey three lanes of traffic each, as well as a central tunnel to be used for maintenance access and emergency ventilation and egress — all built below the bed of the Sound. A traditional toll plaza would be eliminated in favor of a high-tech system similar to E-ZPass or a license plate scanner that could debit a driver’s bank account for the toll fee.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who described the project as “intriguing to say the least,’’ nevertheless said his initial reaction was “it is unrealistic.’’ He promised, however, to review “as much empirical data as we possibly can so we don’t have to make knee-jerk reactions and we can make an informed decision.’’

Elected officials from the proposed tunnel’s northern terminus were not as congenial.

“We cannot in Westchester absorb the additional traffic that this tunnel would bring to our roads,’’ said Rye Mayor Steven Otis. “It simply would make our roads non-functional.’’

He said the Westchester Municipal Officials Association voted in December to oppose the project. “Our hopes are that the project will be withdrawn,’’ Otis said.

Polimeni contended the estimated 80,000 vehicles a day using the tunnel would simply represent a shift in what roads the vehicles are using, not an increase. He also argued the tunnel would ease air pollution because vehicles would be traveling shorter distances to get to the same destination.

Syosset resident Gino Longinotti said he was curious about the project, but didn’t “see it being feasible. We have traffic conditions now where all the roads are congested.’’

For some, the tunnel proposal stirs memories of Moses’ plans for a bridge between Oyster Bay and Rye. The man responsible for the Throgs Neck, the Bronx-Whitestone, the Henry Hudson, and the Verrazano Narrows bridges ultimately failed in his bid for another span when then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller yielded to backlash among powerful suburban Republicans, who rallied to defeat the bridge project in 1973.

Polimeni is not discouraged.

“Moses had the idea, only he was going to go up and over and nobody wanted to see this,’’ he said. The key, he said, to his alternate strategy, was to avoid a towering span and take the plan underground: “I thought, make it stealth.’’