Clear vision is something we look for in good leaders. Not optical vision, of course, but the kind of inspiration, farsightedness and sagacity that lead us to a better place. Some have it; some don’t. While running for reelection in 1992, President George H.W. Bush once bemoaned the pundits who said he lacked “the vision thing.”
Now New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, part of a dynastic family like the Bushes, is determined to display his own version of verve and perspicacity. For better or worse, you’ve got to hand it to the younger Cuomo. He has “tunnel vision.”
Cuomo is so focused on a tunnel (or perhaps a bridge) that he commissioned a $5 million report from an engineering firm in Montreal (couldn’t they find an American company?) to explore the feasibility of a tunnel or bridge linking Long Island with Westchester County or Connecticut.
WSP Global produced a 60-page report identifying three crossing points from Long Island: Oyster Bay to Port Chester, N.Y.; Kings Park to Bridgeport; and Wading River to New Haven. Depending on which route is chosen and whether we’re talking a bridge or a tunnel (or, like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, some combination of the two), the price tag could be anywhere from $8.5 billion to $32 billion.
That’s not chump change. And this vision comes from a man who has just completed the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens and the $4 billion replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge linking Tarrytown, N.Y., with Rockland County. Fittingly, that new span is named after Cuomo’s father, the late Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who, unlike the elder Bush, wore “the vision thing” on his sleeve. I’ve driven over it and “The Mario,” as it is now known, is a sight to behold.
A proposal to span the Sound seems to come up every 10 years or so but various obstacles have stood in the way. As for Connecticut, all three options would surely benefit the state in some way. Even the first option, which is entirely in the state of New York, would empty out right next to Greenwich with easy access to I-95. Whether the communities in the immediate vicinity of the bridge would fight its construction is another matter, though if history is any guide, they will.
Flush from his pair of bridge victories, Cuomo might have bitten off more than he can chew here. Despite his insistence that he can attract private investment, that really seems like a longshot. I think it’s safe to assume that taxpayers and motorists will foot the lion’s share of the bill.
In all likelihood, that means New York taxpayers will pay for it. Can you imagine for one moment that the state of Connecticut, mired as it is a period of “permanent fiscal crisis,” would borrow billions to alleviate congestion on the Long Island Expressway—which Cuomo has said is one of his primary goals. And of course, any giant public works project makes labor unions very happy. I’m sure Cuomo, who is rumored to harbor presidential ambitions, would find that to be a pleasant side effect.
There is precedence for this. Another state tried to get Connecticut to pay and officials in Hartford balked. About five years ago, then-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick set aside $113 million to upgrade the freight lines used by Housatonic Railroad to passenger specs. The idea was to restore passenger rail service to the Berkshires from New York’s Grand Central via the Housatonic Valley in Connecticut.
But when I interviewed him about it a couple of years ago, Gov. Dannel Malloy essentially told the Bay State to get lost unless the funding obligations changed, in part “because they get a lot of service for very little money and we get relatively little service for a lot of money.” So the fact that the Malloy administration is nonplussed by Cuomo’s tunnel is not surprising. It’s not in Malloy’s much-vaunted $100 billion transportation plan. And the so-called special transportation fund isn’t so special after all. The poor thing has dwindled to such a point that Malloy has had to postpone $4.3 billion in transportation projects indefinitely, causing panic in towns and cities that were depending on that funding. And I can’t imagine his successor as governor will be any more enthusiastic than Malloy is about a project that mostly benefits a neighboring state.
If the bridge or tunnel happens, I’m guessing it will be a bridge-only option that runs from Oyster Bay to Port Chester because it’s less pricey than a tunnel and the consent of another state would not be necessary. On the other hand, the political disadvantage for Cuomo is there would be no other state to share the costs and therefore the all-New York route would be less attractive to Empire State taxpayers.
At any rate, Cuomo is crazy if he thinks he can link Long Island to Connecticut and simply have the two states split the costs 50-50. As Malloy told me when I asked him about dividing the costs equally with Massachusetts for the proposed rail line to the Berkshires, “That’s just not how projects get done.”
But the guy who just finished a bridge named after his father has tunnel vision. No doubt the younger Cuomo will need another feather in his cap if he runs against Donald Trump in 2020. As for Malloy, he’s not running for re-election and is leaving the Capitol for parts unknown. I think it’s safe to say he won’t have a bridge named after him anytime soon.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.