Proposed cross-sound bridge would bypass New London ferries

The ferry M/V John H makes the turn as it passes through Plum Gut en-route to the Orient Point ferry terminal on Nov. 19, 2002. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Published January 16. 2018 5:59 PM

By David Collins, Day staff writer

Of all the proposals for bridges or tunnels across Long Island Sound made over the years, my favorite was one of the more preposterous, linking Orient, N.Y., and Watch Hill, R.I., with a landing on Fishers Island.

Indeed, it has often been the criticism from communities where these bridges would land that has helped sink them. That and the very big price tags.

Still, the idea of a drivable link between Long Island and Connecticut or Westchester County, above New York City, routinely has surfaced over the years, with serious proposals dating back to 1938, when a bridge from Orient Point to Groton was proposed.

The Watch Hill/Fishers Island route was discussed in the 1960s. Hard to think how you could pick two wealthy communities more prepared to launch an anti-bridge NIMBY fight than those two.

Now, in 2018, New York is once again pondering a tunnel or bridge or combination, with various configurations under study, including ones with Connecticut landings in the vicinity of Bridgeport or New Haven.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo got the bridge discussion going with a new $5 million study, which already has sparked some discussion on both sides of the sound.

The enthusiasm seems to be largely on the New York side, and the official Connecticut response was a big yawn. A bridge to Long Island was nowhere in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s $100 billion blueprint for a transportation future, and that plan looks mired in the budget morass anyway.

For the foreseeable future, Connecticut is going to have a hard time keeping up with potholes.

It is worth noting that, no matter how pie-in-the-sky these cross-sound bridge and tunnel ideas might be, any one of them would have significant impact on New London. Very few people, for instance, would still wait in line for a ferry from New London to Orient Point if they could drive to Long Island through Milford or any of the other Connecticut gateways envisioned.

I wouldn’t say a bridge or tunnel is dead on arrival, not when the governor of New York is talking it up and financing expensive feasibility studies. He has ordered the New York State Department of Transportation to further study the new consultants’ report.

A new bridge or tunnel might have devastating consequences on the ferry business in New London, but I wonder how that would impact New London in general.

The ferry company is a significant employer and it brings a lot of traffic in and out of the city every day. But it is a mystery how much of that traffic benefits the city, how many ferry passengers end up spending money here and stimulating the local economy.

That might be an interesting study for the ferry company to undertake.

After all, if the New York bridge and tunnel initiatives take hold, the ferry company likely will go into high lobbying mode to slow it down.

There have been some economic development hopes stirred around New Haven with the idea of a bridge or tunnel that might connect that part of Connecticut with the population-rich Long Island.

It could be a way for Connecticut to import business and residents, instead of bleeding them.

The costs of a bridge or tunnel are daunting, ranging from about $8 billion to more than $50 billion, with the tunnels forecast to cost the most. Lengths range from about 10 miles to 25 or more miles.

In talking up the project in his State of the State address earlier this month, Gov. Cuomo noted that a tunnel would be invisible, would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway and could lure significant private investment.

The study commissioned by Cuomo suggested a tunnel or bridge crossing could attract 86,000 vehicles a day and generate some $500 million in tolls a year.

A private developer proposed a tunnel in 2010, an idea for a self-sustaining investment that never got off the ground.

Curiously, the idea of a bridge across Long Island Sound was a plot device in the second season of the hit Netflix series “House of Cards,” with Vice President Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, using a contract for the China-financed bridge as a bargaining chip to consolidate his power and influence.

It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine a bridge concept inflating again, with the governor of New York at the bellows.

Don’t we expect infrastructure spending to be a major pitch in the next presidential election?

Maybe the idea of a bridge over Long Island Sound being a leverage issue in the White House is not just the grist for a hit television series.

This is the opinion of David Collins.
d.collins@theday.com

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