With proper analysis and data-driven urban planning, the key to Long Island’s economic future may just require a mile more of roadway and a new purpose for a decommissioned nuclear power plant.
In a report released on March 18 by the Long Island Association outlining the organization’s 15 top priorities, most of the initiatives were typical of any organization that deals with regional issues here: suppressing rising costs of living and doing business, creating additional housing options, increasing transit accessibility, etc. Buried among the tired suggestions Long Islanders so frequently see, the LIA wrote the following:
“Also support efforts to create a clean energy economy on Long Island by encouraging the growth of the region’s wind and solar industries and advocate that LIPA donate the Shoreham nuclear power plant site for a cargo port and/or manufacturing park for wind turbines and/or solar panels.”
The LIA’s call for a cargo port at the former Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant site, if executed and planned for appropriately, is the best old/new idea the Island has seen since the concept was first proposed in the 1960s.
Dr. Lee Koppelman, Long Island’s veteran master planner who brought professional urban planning to Suffolk County and eventually Nassau, first suggested the concept five decades ago. Since then, the notion of a cross-Sound link at Shoreham has taken many turns, including a bridge. Other ideas may have come and gone, but the isolated location of the nuclear plant and the relatively sparse wetlands at the shoreline make the Shoreham site ideal for a crossing of some kind.
Whenever any big ideas for our region get mentioned, Long Islanders typically scoff—the byproduct of a jaded public, thanks to halfhearted proposals, stakeholder-driven studies and countless shelved comprehensive plans. Despite this cynicism, it’s important for policymakers and planners to think beyond throwing residential density at our economic stagnation.
On Long Island, large-scale proposals are always cyclical. Think of the frequent resurrection of the Bayville-Rye crossing that occurs almost every five years. This time the LIA has showed excellent timing in making a new cargo port at Shoreham a priority.
It’s always nice to think big, but it’s critical for the LIA and policymakers to seriously explore the concept that they buried on the third page of their priorities list. Any further study of the concept must answer the following questions: How large would the cargo port be? Historically, the seaports in New York have fallen into disuse. Is a new seaport of some variety feasible in the Tristate Region? How will completion of AVR’s The Meadows at Yaphank change the traffic dynamics in the area? Will people want to use a ferry service at this location? The two ferry companies now, one from Port Jefferson, the other from Orient Point, are barely holding their own.
The port proposal will only be realistic if people use it, so it’s essential that the review accurately models the usage and projects the cargo demand, the number of truck trips generated and whether our existing freight-rail infrastructure could handle the additional loads. As with any other development proposal, a serious data-driven analysis and feasibility study would have to be conducted.
Although important questions still need to be answered, existing assets can already be identified.
The most important one is the Shoreham site’s isolation. Nestled along the woods of the North Shore, sufficiently buffered from neighboring homes and the protests that inevitably come when their backyards are threatened, sits the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, a structure that stands as a testament to misguided energy policy. Built by LILCO for $6 billion but never used, the structure is currently the burden of every utility ratepayer on Long Island. Shoreham would be ideal for a multifaceted cargo port, with the area’s straight shoreline and underutilized waterfront. The cargo port proposal, with the opportunity to link Long Island to New Haven via ferry service in under an hour, is the 800-acre site’s chance to redeem itself.
The next asset is the ease of connectivity. If the ferry terminal is built as the William Floyd Parkway is extended, it would allow for a critical transportation link to New England and beyond. It is essential that the LIA advocates not only for a cargo port, but for a multifaceted port that includes passenger ferries as well because they would ensure that the site will be viable. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, William Floyd Parkway has a present design capacity of 57,000 vehicle trips per day. Currently, the road is at 43 percent capacity, with only 25,000 vehicle trips per day using the route. So the route could definitely withstand increased volume.
Due to a decision made decades ago by Suffolk County when the William Floyd Parkway was constructed, it now terminates at Route 25A. The Shoreham Nuclear Plant is a mere 1.23 miles north of the point where the Parkway currently stops, and the right-of-way to extend the route is vacant. If these undeveloped parcels were bisected by the William Floyd Extension to the proposed port, the nearest houses to the west of the roadway would be half a mile away, and the homes on the east would be a mile. Dr. Koppelman originally recommended giving the William Floyd extension just one entry/exit point at 25A and no others until it terminates at the Shoreham site, further protecting the neighboring communities from any unwanted traffic. Thanks to the site’s close proximity in Suffolk to both the Brookhaven Rail Terminal and Long Island Expressway, goods could be shipped off the Island in many ways.
About 24 miles across the Long Island Sound lies New Haven, a city that has industry along its shoreline. It also offers a gateway to New England and Canada. Interstate 91, whose southern terminus runs directly through New Haven, shoots straight up north to the Canadian border in Derby Line, Vermont. It’s the potential linkage to this highway that makes both the cargo port and Shoreham-New Haven ferry so appealing.
Long Island’s current ferry ports don’t have the economic potential that the Shoreham-New Haven route promises. The Orient Point Cross-Sound ferry, which connects the Island to New London, is 40 miles further to the east. It is limited by the one-lane approach road and distinct lack of parking. Port Jefferson harbor, the site of the ferry to Bridgeport, is a deepwater port similar to Shoreham, but it primarily accepts fuel and oil shipments for the 64-year-old Port Jefferson power plant, whose future isn’t looking too bright thanks to the looming threat of its decommission.
Meanwhile, policymakers in Connecticut are pushing hard for trucks coming from New England with cargo bound for Long Island or New York City to be diverted from I-95 to New London, where they would then take the Orient Point ferry, so the pressure is on to find a viable solution to our freight transportation issues. Long Islanders have to ask which is worse: extending a mile of road to an already isolated site in Shoreham, or having semi-trailer trucks rumble through the rural winding roads of the North Fork?
If Long Island is to remain competitive economically, we will need to maximize our existing assets. The LIA should partner with policymakers from the Assembly and the State Senate, as well as with both Nassau and Suffolk County legislatures, and secure funding from the state and federal level to conduct a realistic, professional assessment of whether a multifaceted cargo port and ferry terminal at Shoreham is feasible. All it would take is about $1 million dollars to fund a dedicated planning effort.
The Shoreham Nuclear Plant currently represents Long Island’s broken past. Let’s make the site a showcase for our future.
Rich Murdocco writes on Long Island’s land use and real estate development issues. He received his Master’s in Public Policy at Stony Brook University, where he studied regional planning under Dr. Lee Koppelman, Long Island’s veteran master planner. Murdocco will be contributing regularly to the Long Island Press. More of his views can be found on www.TheFoggiestIdea.org or follow him on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea.