Invoking Robert Moses, Cuomo unveils his Long Island agenda
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo made his annual pre-State of the State pilgrimage to Long Island to announce “ambitious access proposals” — including a potential car tunnel to Connecticut — that he said will lay the groundwork for this year.
Cuomo rolled out his plans in a speech to the Long Island Association, a business group. The Democratic governor will present his agenda and proposed budget next Wednesday in a speech in Albany but this week is traveling the state to unspool various initiatives in both presentations and media reports.
After his speech Tuesday, the governor told reporters the infrastructure proposals are just a piece of a statewide puzzle that he will present in the run-up to next week. He promised New Yorkers "the most ambitious transportation development plan in modern history" but declined, for now, to offer details.
During his remarks, Cuomo lamented that government doesn't “think big” and spoke almost wistfully of Robert Moses, a contentious figure who, often steamrolling public opposition, built bridges, parks, parkways and highways that remain the core of the tristate region's transportation infrastructure.
“Somewhere along the way, we lost our daring. We got consumed by the opposition and consumed by the bureaucracy, and we don't think big anymore, and we don't think we're capable of doing big anymore, and we don't think government is a vehicle for doing big any more. And that, my friends, will condemn any dream, if that's how we start,” Cuomo said. “NIMBY and the shortcomings of the bureaucracy have stolen our capacity.”
His proposed projects include a third track for the Long Island Railroad between Floral Park and Hicksville, which Cuomo said would make it easier for people to reverse commute between New York City and Long Island. It's an old idea, but Cuomo said his version will impact fewer homeowners and be shorter than earlier iterations.
Another revived idea includes a tunnel that would connect Nassau and Suffolk County with the Bronx, Westchester or Connecticut, in an effort to make it easier for people to leave Long Island without dealing with New York City traffic.
Moses had sought to build a bridge between Rye and Oyster Bay but was defeated as his power waned. Recently, the Long Island Regional Planning Commission recommended a fresh look at the ideal of such a tunnel. In August, a Suffolk County spokesman told Newsday, "Right now, we're at step one of about 5 million."
While his words painted a picture of complete projects, Cuomo backed it with relatively small amounts of funding that would be dedicated to early planning efforts.
He's proposing $7 million for study and community outreach for the LIRR expansion, and $5 million for a new planning effort for the tunnel. In 2014, the Long Island Index estimated the third LIRR track would cost $1.2 billion but could create 14,000 new jobs.
These commitments will be added to a list of infrastructure needs both in the greater New York City area and around the state. The state's Thruway Authority has still not released a full financial plan for its replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which has been under construction for several years (and which Cuomo touted in his speech). The governor committed $8.3 billion over five years to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's capital needs but has yet to say how he will back that commitment. And there are calls for a comparable investment in upstate roads and bridges that Cuomo has said he would heed.
This is the third consecutive year that Cuomo has traveled to Long Island in the days ahead of his formal State of the State speech. His events in 2014 and 2015 both focused on new property tax rebate programs.
The governor's Long Island project list also includes $6 million to build a federal customs house at MacArthur airport, which will let the airport take international passenger flights, as well as $130 million to connect more homes to sewers and another $50 million to support a mixed-use development adjacent to the LIRR's Ronkonkoma station.
Here is Cuomo's press release: http://on.ny.gov/1Rplam1