Rep. Tim Bishop: Political will, money key obstacles to high-speed rail

By: Alfonso A. Castillo on May 24, 2013
Originally published by: Newsday

A federal lawmaker said Friday that the biggest obstacle in the way of a high-speed rail tunnel or bridge off of Long Island Sound is finding political funding and support to get it done.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) spoke about several transportation issues facing Nassau and Suffolk at a Melville event hosted by Action Long Island, a planning group.

Bishop addressed a recent proposal by the Federal Railroad Administration to extend the Northeast Corridor, used by Amtrak, onto Long Island via a bridge or tunnel.

There is no cost estimate for the project, which would be completed by 2040. Supporters say it would provide a critical alternative route for Long Islanders who have to deal with crowded Penn Station or the congested Interstate 95 to travel north.

Bishop said the federal government has “quite correctly” realized that high-speed rail is an important part of the country’s transportation future. Still, he questioned the political will to make it a reality on Long Island.

“I think there’s broad agreement that increased reliance on rail is absolutely essential,” said Bishop, who sits on the House Transportation Committee. “The challenge is how do we act on that broad agreement in an environment of scarcity and in an environment in which we seem to have stopped doing big things.”

Bishop said inadequate federal funding was holding back several important transportation projects ranging from a cross-Sound connection to road drainage improvements in Southampton.

To accomplish some of those goals, Bishop said, Congress needs to move away from the overreliance on a gas tax to fund highway projects, and also lift a moratorium on so-called “member items” that allow elected representatives to direct funding to specific projects in their home regions.

Action Long Island chairman Sheldon Sackstein, who moderated the event, agreed that it is imperative for the federal government to find the money to upgrade Long Island’s aging transportation network through big ideas, such as a subway system along Suffolk‘s Route 110 corridor.

“I think the folks in Washington have to figure out how we will do it, because it needs to be done,” Sackstein said. “You can’t just say, ‘We’re not building big projects anymore.’ ”

Garden City developer Michael Polimeni said finding someone in government to “quarterback” a cross-Sound connection will make all the difference. And he would know.

Polimeni led a team that spent more than $2 million on a plan to build a tunnel from Syosset to Rye in Westchester County for cars and trains. The plan stalled about two years ago without support from Albany, he said.

“It absolutely works,” Polimeni said of a cross-Sound tunnel, which he said would address projections that Long Island’s major roadways will be at 100 percent capacity by 2025. “The need is clear and present.”