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City creates committee to oversee tunnel project

The Rye City Council unanimously approved establishing a committee to collect information on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed construction of a tunnel linking Long Island to Westchester County, which recently picked up steam after the state began soliciting ideas from private investors.

Known as the Long Island Tunnel Advisory Committee, the council created the ad hoc board on Feb. 8 to oversee the proposal, which suggests connecting either the city of Rye or the village of Port Chester to the town of Oyster Bay on Long Island, among other locations.

The Rye City Council created the Long Island Tunnel Advisory Committee on Feb. 8 to oversee the state-proposed construction of a tunnel linking Westchester County to Long Island. Photo courtesy NYSDOT

“This project is still a long way away, but of course Rye’s concern is great,” said Rye City Mayor Josh Cohn, a Democrat, who added that a tunnel would promote congestion around the 95 and 287 interstates. “We’re all familiar with how difficult it sometimes is to get on either of those roads during lengthy traffic times.”

The advisory committee will be made up of two members from the city Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee, three residents from neighborhoods near the proposed location of the tunnel at the Rye-Port Chester boarder, and two others which haven’t been specified as of yet.

In late January, the state Department of Transportation, DOT, issued a request for expressions of interest, REOI, seeking input from private investors on engineering, environmental, operations and financial considerations for a future proposal.

An REOI is used to assess interest in a project and to solicit ideas and information from interested parties.

“It seems like that is a concrete action towards furthering this project, and it is very important to have a group oversee the development and stay on top of it,” said Rye City Councilwoman Emily Hurd, a Democrat, of Cuomo’s REOI.

The state’s REOI was sent out just after the release of an 87-page document last month underlining how much it would cost to construct the bridge or tunnel and how much revenue it would generate in tolls per year. The DOT’s study indicates that an 18-mile tunnel connecting Westchester County and Long Island could cost approximately between $31.5 billion and $55.4 billion, and could potentially produce $500 million in tolls per year.

In 2016, the governor secured $5 million for the DOT to test the plan’s usefulness. Cuomo described the construction of a tunnel as “feasible” last month and said it would help alleviate a great amount of traffic pouring out of Long Island.

With the creation of the ad hoc committee, the new city administration will echo sentiments expressed by previous administrations.

In 2016, former Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, promised to “topple” any proposal that would connect Long Island to the Rye area via a tunnel.

City officials and residents have always opposed plans to build a tunnel to Rye as the idea has materialized on numerous occasions since the 1930s. Master builder Robert Moses and former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, pursued building a Rye-Oyster Bay bridge in the 1960s; however, it failed to come to fruition after facing opposition from local and state-elected officials in Westchester and Long Island.

As of press time, Cuomo’s office has said REOIs are due no later than April 2, 2018.

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