Rye City Mayor Steve Otis was one of a handful of regional officials who provided testimony on Thursday on the tunnel a Long Island developer wants to bore from Syosset underneath the Long Island Sound and sprout up at Rye’s I-287.
To summarize Otis’ comments: bad idea for Westchester and the region, forget it.
Otis provided his complete testimony to MyRye.com:
Senator Marcellino, thank you for holding this hearing and providing a forum to discuss the proposed Long Island Sound tunnel project. We welcome this opportunity to share Westchester’s concerns about serious negative consequences to our county’s transportation system.
My name is Steve Otis. I am serving in my eleventh year as Mayor of the City of Rye in Westchester County and am appearing here today with Supervisor O’Keefe and Mayor Fixell. On behalf of all Westchester communities we are pleased to be able to share our opposition to the tunnel proposal before us today.
We understand and sympathize with Long Island’s traffic problems. Like Long Island, Westchester County has limited highway capacity and vehicle volumes that often bring traffic to a standstill. We have undertaken numerous studies and planning efforts to address traffic problems on our existing roadways.
Like Long Island, the inability of our major corridors to function diminishes our economic health, transportation viability, and quality of life.
Today both I-287 and I-95 often function at the failing service level F category. Our roads have experienced steady increases in traffic volumes with continued increases projected in future years. Like Long Island, we have no ability to build our way out of this situation because southern and central Westchester is already fully developed.
As you can see, we share many of the same problems Long Island faces when it comes to traffic congestion. As regional partners in the metropolitan area, we understand Long Island’s traffic problems because we face similar challenges. Like Long Island, we are no longer the home of empty roads, open farmland, and unlimited rights-of-way.
The message we want to deliver today is that Westchester County does not have road capacity to absorb and move the traffic volumes anticipated by the tunnel proposal. The tunnel will further cripple our already failing key highways I-287 and I-95.
It goes without saying that we have been trying to find solutions to our own traffic challenges on I-287 and the Tappen Zee corridor for over twenty years. Today traffic volumes bring I-287 to a standstill during parts of the day, seven days a week. It is not uncommon for westbound traffic to sit bumper to bumper from Tarrytown all the way back to the area of exit 9 in Harrison. Numerous study groups and planning initiatives have been working to address these issues.
The introduction of a major infusion of additional traffic on I-287 will bring traffic flow on the full length of this corridor to failure levels even beyond the crisis delays we experience today. There is no doubt that a major result of a Long Island Sound highway tunnel to Westchester will be to divert car and truck traffic now using the George Washington Bridge or other New York City crossings and bring these vehicles to the Tappen Zee corridor. This increase will make travel through this major artery impossible.
In addition, current traffic levels on I-95 cause significant tie-ups on a regular basis. Traffic volumes in this corridor have increased dramatically in the last decade. The introduction of a tunnel will pose new challenges and uncertainties for I-95, as well. With a new way to move traffic on and off of Long Island, the likelihood of attracting higher traffic volumes to the region would be consistent with what we have experienced when other new roadways have been built in the past.
We in Westchester have not been reassured by the information provided to date by the tunnel’s sponsors. Crucial traffic information and projections are absent from their website. There is no information analyzing the impact of changing traffic patterns that would be caused by the tunnel in locations where traffic volumes would increase. The private funding described in the sponsoring group’s material is not without taxpayer subsidy. It is described as utilizing tax free bonds. Air quality claims are deserving of the most skepticism. Given the assurance of increased traffic logjams in Westchester it is difficult to believe that anything other than reduced air quality in our county will be the result. There is hardly any detailed information regarding the construction process.
These are questions that should raise the concern of the committee, but
the key for us in Westchester is that the traffic impact of this tunnel will be devastating to our county. While as regional partners we understand Long Island’s traffic problems, we cannot proceed with a proposal that so clearly will bury Westchester County in traffic volumes we cannot possibly accommodate. There are no benefits for Westchester in this proposal, only significant damage to our transportation system and economic viability.
While our focus is from the Westchester viewpoint, I would suggest that Long Island communities review carefully whether this proposal will actually be the “as advertised” benefit to Long Island. The unintended consequences of a proposal such as this should be of concern to a Long Island wary of the traffic increases that would result from easier access to the Island.
Clearly, as a region, we need to address traffic volume massing that paralyzes our roads. Increased road capacity will not solve the transportation problems facing Westchester or Long Island. If you build it, the cars and trucks will come. Instead, our transportation solutions will come through increased viability of user-friendly mass transit, alternative options for moving goods such as rail and better planning. I know that the state legislature is working on all of these issues.
Last week, at a quarterly meeting of Westchester municipal and county officials, County Executive Andy Spano indicated his concerns and stated that he was opposed to the project unless it could be demonstrated that the tunnel would bring no increase in traffic to Westchester roads.
It is for these reasons, and the additional information provided by Supervisor O’Keefe and Mayor Fixell, that we strongly oppose this project. Having heard the feedback from Westchester, we ask that the project sponsors withdraw the proposal. We ask that in your capacity as State Senators you do everything you can to see this project rejected.
We believe the damage to Westchester’s transportation system and our county’s ability to function will be devastating. We believe that the claims of the proponents are open to serious question. Having given a fair review of the material provided since November, we see no light at the end of this tunnel and hope you will lead the effort to abandon the proposal and find more practical solutions to the transportation and environmental challenges facing Westchester and Long Island.