$1.5B Contract Awarded for NJ Bridge Replacement
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently announced that the New Jersey Transit Board has approved a $1.5 billion contract to replace the Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River. The 110-year-old rail bridge reportedly has a reputation for getting stuck and delaying tens of thousands of commuters.
The contract is reportedly the largest awarded in N.J. Transit history. Construction is expected to start in a few months and be completed in five and a half years, according to project officials.
“Few infrastructure projects are as critical to the nation as replacing the aging Portal Bridge,” said Murphy. “With today’s step, N.J. Transit is rapidly moving towards beginning the first phase of the largest infrastructure project in the United States. This award will not only bring a bridge that will resolve the long-standing bottlenecks plaguing New Jersey commuters, but will also create well-paying skilled labor jobs in the process.”
Portal is reported to be one of the busiest railroad bridges in the western hemisphere, used by up to 200,000 passengers a day.
NJ.com reports that a new Portal Bridge was supposed to be part of the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project, but was canceled by then-Governor Chris Christie in October 2010.
.@GovMurphy today announced that the NJ TRANSIT Board of Directors has approved a contract with Skanska/Traylor Bros Joint Venture for the construction of the new Portal North Bridge. https://t.co/PuLrgFuIyW pic.twitter.com/rkTVbc9rzn— NJ TRANSIT (@NJTRANSIT) October 12, 2021
In October 2017, officials participated in a mock groundbreaking that indicated the plans for the replacement of the rail bridge. The North Portal Bridge opens to let boats and other water traffic through, but fails to close 15 percent of the time, noted CBS New York.
This kind of issue is symptomatic of a larger problem: The swing bridge, as well as some of the associated infrastructure, has aged well past its useful lifespan.
In June 2018, as part of the larger Gateway Project, which is intended to improve area infrastructure, the New Jersey Transit board of directors approved $600 million in funding for the replacement of the bridge. According to NJBIZ, the bonds would be repaid over a 30-year term from the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund. N.J. Transit estimated that the new bridge would allow for a 10-percent increase in peak-hour passenger capacity.
The $1.5 billion two-track replacement span was designed as a high-level, fixed-span bridge, which eliminates the malfunctions of movable components that have often bottlenecked train traffic. Partners included the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
A New Jersey commuter took it upon themselves in December 2018 to find funding for replacing the Portal Bridge: A GoFundMe, started by someone self-named as “Sad Jersey Commuter,” was seeking $920 million to replace the bridge.
"We, the residents, commuters, and visitors of New Jersey, are taking matters into our own hands," the GoFundMe author writes. "We will no longer stand idly by and continue to suffer substandard public transportation."
Latest Contract Award
The contract was awarded to Skanska/Traylor Bros Joint Venture of Queens, New York, after two pre-qualified bidders submitted proposals in September and the company was “deemed the lowest responsible and responsive bidder.”
“This construction award, which is the single largest in our agency’s history, is the culmination of more than three years of hard work and determination by N.J. Transit and our project partners at Amtrak,” said N.J. Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett.
The bridge replacement is part of the larger Gateway Project and is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, N.J. Transit and Amtrak. One goal of the new bridge is to eventually double rail capacity between Newark and New York.
According to the press release, the new bridge is planned to be a modern two track, high level, fixed-span to improve service and capacity of the Northeast Corridor, rising 50 feet over the Hackensack River to allow marine traffic to pass underneath without interrupting rail traffic.
“A new Portal North Bridge that won’t have to open and close for river traffic is vital to improving safety, speed and reliability in the busiest section of the Northeast Corridor,” said Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia.
The contract involves construction of retaining walls, deep foundations, concrete piers, structural steel bridge spans, rail systems, demolition of the exiting bridge and related incidental work. Skanska’s proposal includes 15 subcontracts, totaling $70 million, with minority- and woman-owned businesses representing 5.02% of the project, according to the contract.