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NJ Bridge Project Takes Major Step Forward

Friday, January 8, 2021

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A 110-year-old bridge in New Jersey will now officially be replaced, thanks to an authorization made by the state’s transit board of directors, approving the execution of a full funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration.

Now, the agreement awaits signature as the United States Department of Transportation and Congress conduct final reviews.

About Portal Bridge

Built in 1910 as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's extension from New Jersey to Manhattan, the Portal Bridge is a two-track, railroad swing-type drawbridge. Today, the bridge serves more than 450 daily Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains. However, the structure is reported to be a “major bottleneck and source of delay,” as it occasionally experiences malfunctions in its mechanical components when opening and closing for maritime traffic.

Partners on the project include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In deciding to replace the structure (although funds had not been secured) in October 2017, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined leaders from Amtrak, NJ Transit, the state’s congressional delegation and officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey held a mock groundbreaking, indicating that plans for the replacement were moving forward.

At the time, the replacement was slated to cost $1.5 billion, with $20 million secured for the first part of the replacement, noted CBS New York. Preliminary construction was also reported to be underway, which included the installation of new fiber optic cable poles and a retaining wall.

The following year, NJ Transit board of directors approved $600 million in funding for the replacement of the Portal Bridge. According to NJBIZ, the bonds would be repaid over a 30-year term from the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund. NJ Transit estimated that the new bridge would allow for a 10% increase in peak hour passenger capacity.

The $1.5 billion two-track replacement span, known as Portal North Bridge, is designed to be a high-level, fixed-span bridge, which eliminates the malfunctions as the bridge will be 50-feet high, enough to allow for river traffic without needing to open.

Another bridge—the two-track Portal South Bridge span—has also been proposed as part of the Gateway Project in 2018. The addition would double train capacity along its respective length of the Northeast Corridor. The plan and design for the south bridge was scheduled to be finalized when the federal NEC Future study and environmental review process were both completed.

The Gateway Project also includes adding a rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York under the Hudson River. The total cost is estimated at more than $20 billion.

In December of that same year, one local commuter took it upon themselves to find funding for replacing the Portal Bridge: A GoFundMe, started by someone self-named as “Sad Jersey Commuter,” sought $920 million to replace the bridge.

The GoFundMe creator noted that they added $20 million in planning for oversight, but a project of this scale would "totally chew through that in no time, when this goes massively over budget." The page author went on to declare that together, “we the people can own 50% of this bridge and start to reclaim our travel.”

What’s Next

While the road to achieve funding for the project has been rocky, the recent grant agreement marks the final stage of the capital investment grant process to fund the new fixed span across the Hackensack River.

“Since taking office, one of my top priorities has been to secure funding for key infrastructure projects that will carry our commuters and our economy forward,” said Gov. Murphy. “I’m thrilled by the board’s decision today to green light this agreement, which moves us one step closer to replacing this unreliable, century-old bridge that has threatened to grind the Northeast Corridor to a halt and been a source of untold stress for thousands of riders who rely on it.

“New Jersey has put our skin in the game with more than our fair share of funding, and I look forward to working with the Federal Transit Administration to get this shovel-ready project started.”

Moving forward, the NJ Transit—with the assistance of Amtrak—will be able to construct, operate and maintain the replacement bridge and about four kilometers (2.5 miles) of related rail infrastructure.

Construction of the new bridge is expected to cost $1.8 billion.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Railroad Administration; Funding; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rail; Transportation

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