Officials Break Ground for Portal North Bridge
For the third time in the project’s history, officials broke ground for the construction of the new Portal North Bridge. The 112-year-old swing bridge will be replaced with a new two-track fixed struck railroad bridge over the Hackensack River.
The $2.3 billion Portal North Bridge project is a critical component of the Gateway Program, which is expected to double rail capacity between Newark, New Jersey, and New York.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, alongside Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and several other state, federal and local officials, held the groundbreaking for the new Portal North Bridge at the beginning of the month.
“The esteemed elected officials, transportation executives, and union members gathered here today to celebrate a national milestone are evidence of what we can achieve when we band together as Americans in pursuit of a common purpose,” said Governor Murphy. “Safe, reliable, and modern infrastructure is about more than just getting to work on time. It’s also about the thousands of good-paying jobs this project will create and the families they support.
“By improving connectivity, we will also promote economic opportunity, not just for New Jersey residents and commuters, but for the Northeast Corridor and our nation. The new Portal North Bridge symbolizes our lasting legacy and our commitment to the welfare and prosperity of all New Jerseyans.”
The Portal North Bridge project in New Jersey is a great example of improvements happening across the country that will:— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) August 3, 2022
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“This project turns the Portal North Bridge from a chokepoint to an access point. It modernizes the way that people and goods get to and from this region that is responsible for 20 percent of America’s economic product every year,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg. “I hope that this bridge will not only bring people to work and loved ones to where they need to be, but brings renewed confidence in our ability to get things done together. We are entering into a true infrastructure decade.”
The project spans 2.44 miles of the Northeast Corridor line, including construction of retaining walls, deep foundations, concrete piers, structural steel bridge spans, rail systems, demolition of the existing bridge and other related works. The Notice to Proceed received in April marked the start of the construction contract.
According to reports, the estimated cost of the bridge project has increased more than 20% since December alone, with NJ Transit attributing the rise to “market dislocation due to COVID and resulting cost uncertainty and inflationary pressures and the shortage of commodities, labor and equipment attributable to COVID.”
Construction is anticipated to take approximately five and half years to complete.
Portal North Bridge Background
The 112-year-old rail bridge reportedly has a reputation for getting stuck and delaying tens of thousands of commuters. Originally, NJ.com reported 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.
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% increase in peak-hour passenger capacity.
The then-$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 even 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.
President Joe Biden and Murphy, along with federal, state and local officials, broke ground at the Portal North Bridge in October 2021, marking the “start of the largest critical infrastructure project in the United States.”
“Governor Murphy, so many of the national challenges we are confronting, are areas where you are already leading. The infrastructure bill is about rebuilding the arteries of America, and the Portal Bridge Project is showing why investments like this are so important. When the Portal Bridge was built, it was state-of-the-art, and it was, 110 years ago,” said President Biden at the ceremony.
“Today, it’s been called something different, a chokepoint, a bottleneck, an Achilles’ Heel to the Northeast Corridor. Since the Portal Bridge was built, it has become the busiest rail span in the entire Western Hemisphere. Today, we are moving forward on a new bridge so that it will be higher over the water, so it won’t need to open and close, and allow us to increase speed, safety, efficiency, and capacity. It’s going to make life a lot better for New Jersey’s commuters.”
That same month, Murphy announced that the New Jersey Transit Board approved a $1.5 billion contract to replace the Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River. The contract is reportedly the largest awarded in N.J. Transit history.
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.”
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.
In April, Murphy and N.J. Transit announced a “Notice to Procced” was issued for construction of the new bridge. The Notice to Proceed to the Skanska/Traylor Bros Joint Venture signifies the start of the construction contract. According to the release, the contract is anticipated to take about five and half years to complete. Skansa reported earlier this year that construction was anticipated to begin in the second quarter of 2022 and schedule for completion during the third quarter of 2027.
Once completed, the new bridge will be raised more than 50 feet over the river to allow marine traffic to pass underneath and will include a high-level fixed span that does not open or close, also eliminating movable components and risk of malfunction. Additionally, the new bridge will reportedly improve reliability, safety and capacity, aiding the issue of major bottlenecks and delays.
According to the N.J. Transit, the bridge is being funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Transportation Fund, N.J. Turnpike Authority and Amtrak. In January last year, Murphy signed a Full Funding Grant Agreement, securing $766.5 million in Federal Transit Administration funding for the project’s construction.
The project will span 2.44 miles of the Northeast Corridor line, with construction including retaining walls, deep foundations, concrete piers, structural steel bridge spans, rail systems, demolition of the existing bridge and related incidental works. The Portal North Bridge is part of the Gateway Program, which will reportedly double rail capacity between Newark and New York.
Last month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Governor Murphy signed a funding agreement to split the cost for the Hudson Tunnel and Portal North Bridge projects, advancing the Gateway Program to its next phase. The Memorandum of Understanding, required by the Gateway Development Commission Act, outlines sources, uses and timing of funding for Phase One Gateway Projects.
Phase One of the program will be funded by a combination of federal and local sources, with a 50-50 split for the Gateway Tunnel project and a similar funding split for the bridge. For Portal North Bridge, federal funding sources total approximately 60% of the total cost, leaving the States' PNB Commitment of $772.4 million to be split by New Jersey and New York at $386.2 million per state.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will commit a total of $2.7 billion for the first phase. The states also note they intend to work with partners and federal entities to pursue greater federal resources of funding for the program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.