Editor’s Note: I promise that I will not reveal any spoilers from House of Cards. I learned my lesson a little over two years ago, when I wrote a status criticizing Boardwalk Empire for killing off Jimmy Darmody in the Season 2 finale, the day after it aired on television. Said status ruined the finale for many a friend. And if I spoiled for you now, over two years after the fact, that Jimmy gets the ax, or rather, a bullet to the head, too bad.
A significant subplot of the second season of House of Cards is the political maneuvering to get a bridge built across the Long Island Sound from Port Jefferson, New York, to Milford, Connecticut. The project is a centerpiece of President Garrett Walker’s political agenda, but requires funding from China to get it off the ground (no pun intended). Vice President Frank Underwood, played by you-love-to-hate-him Kevin Spacey, naturally uses this for his own selfish motives.
But putting aside the fiction for a minute, does the bridge, or even a tunnel, have a basis in reality? The answer is yes.
As early as 1938, plans were laid out for a link crossing the Sound, and were continually proposed throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Needless to say, they never came to fruition due to prohibitive cost, feasibility concerns, and opposition mainly coming from the Connecticut side.
As many Boston College students like myself are from Long Island, any road crossing over the Sound would be a boon for us. Most of us from the Island know the feeling of being stuck on a bus in bumper-to-bumper traffic for five or six hours to get home for break, and a bridge or a tunnel across from Connecticut could cut around two hours off the trip. In addition, I have taken the ferry across the Sound from both Bridgeport and New London to get home many times, but this takes just as long as driving.
Like his fictional counterpart, President Obama ran his campaign on improving the economy through infrastructure projects. This is sound logic that is backed by economic data. A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found “that within the first year of any infrastructure project, a solid 10% GDP growth grew out of that project. Within 10 years, the project had not only paid for itself, it had a huge return on investment in GDP growth. Every dollar spent resulted in 2 dollars of GDP growth.”
Furthermore, I cannot think, save for high-speed rail, of any other proposed infrastructure project on such a large scale that would benefit the greatest number of people. The New York to Boston corridor is one of the most traveled in the United States, mainly serviced by Interstate 95. Long Island has a population of roughly 3 million, and is next to the largest city in the country which has 8 million people. Across the Sound, Connecticut has 3.5 million people, and nearby are Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Clearly, this is not going to become Sarah Palin's "Bridge to Nowhere". Furthermore, the thousands of jobs that would be created from such a project and the revenue that would generate through tolls would help stimulate an admittedly weak economic recovery in which the richest 1% have captured 95% of all gains since 2009.
Another path off of Long Island makes sense too. In an emergency such as a hurricane, the only way off the island is through New York City. The rush hour commute is bad enough; an evacuation currently would be far worse in terms of traffic and would not be successful.
If I were to (cough) run for political office sometime in the future (cough), I would make building a link across the Sound a priority. But unlike in House of Cards, I wouldn’t use corrupt Chinese money for the project. Nor would I build it in Port Jefferson. I am fundamentally against eminent domain for the taking of private residences and commercial businesses, and Port Jeff, as it is affectionately called by the locals, has a thriving downtown that would be ruined by such a project running through it.
Other proposals are to connect Oyster Bay or Glen Cove with Rye in Westchester, New York; Northport with Stamford or Norwalk, Connecticut; Shoreham with New Haven; Riverhead with Guilford, Connecticut, or from Orient Point (the tip of the North Fork of Long Island), with New London, Connecticut or Rhode Island.
I would not want to ruin the wine industry and the beautiful vineyards of the North Fork, so to me, the Orient Point and the Riverhead ideas are out of the question. While House Majority Whip Jackie Sharp from House of Cards, who is obviously jealous because she's from Napa Valley, claims that Long Island wine "tastes like piss" and belongs in a wastewater treatment plant, I beg to differ, and so does real-life Congressman Tim Bishop, a Democrat who represents the eastern part of the Island.
I am not a big fan of the Glen Cove idea, because the only main road leading into town is narrow and has only one lane going each way. It is also too close to comfort to the traffic congestion of New York City.
The Oyster Bay plan has potential, although it would have to come in the form of a tunnel. Robert Moses, the planner of the New York City/Long Island road system, envisioned the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway to extend all the way to the North Shore. Except that it doesn’t. It literally just ends abruptly. Because of this, the project would start in Syosset where the expressway ends rather than Oyster Bay, which is further north.
In 2008, this idea was brought up by a private company, and it was estimated that the tunnel would cost $10 billion and would be completed by 2025. The main drawback to this idea is that the starting point for the tunnel would be roughly 6 or 7 miles away from the Sound itself, and when there is a more viable option, this is unnecessary.
This brings me to what I believe is the best idea: the Shoreham-New Haven plan. It is centrally located on the Island and is further away from New York City than Oyster Bay, which is in more congested Nassau County. There is also flexibility for the plan to be either a bridge or a tunnel, which would be 24 miles long. The existing roads in the area are suitable for such a project: it would start on the north end of the William Floyd Parkway, which is about a mile away from the Long Island Sound.
The lower blue circle on this map shows the northern terminus of the Parkway, and you can see undeveloped land between this and the water that allows for a roadway to be built. Past blueprints for a Shoreham-New Haven crossing call for various measures, such as retaining walls and trees, no new zoning laws, no physical toll booths, and no new exits to minimize community impact and pollution. But take a look at the blue circle on the top, which presents a problem: a defunct nuclear power plant. Although I’m not sure how it can be considered defunct because it never even began operation, it may have to be dismantled for any bridge or tunnel to be approved.
On the other side of the Sound, New Haven is a major intersection of various interstates, and I count two places where a link from Long Island can be put in. The circle on the left could be where the lane begins for Long Island-bound traffic, while the circle on the right could be where people coming from Long Island arrive in Connecticut.
This country needs visionaries who can make ideas like this a reality and move us forward into the 21st century. A bridge or a tunnel on this magnitude can be done, just look at the Chunnel between England and France, or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia. President Obama had potential to get something like this approved, but has been blocked by an obstructionist Congress ever since Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy's seat back in 2010. But sorry, Frank Underwood doesn’t count. But perhaps I will.