Against the backdrop of the Kill Van Kull and the Bayonne Bridge, and to a musical soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of our own,” Christie told the union workers, “Today is about jobs.”
This isn’t merely the construction jobs that will be generated by the raising of the roadway, but also about the port jobs that will benefit as a result of larger cargo ships being able to pass under the historic arch to access port facilities along Newark Bay. Christie also said the project would help industries that are connected in other ways to the port.
The $1.29 billion program, designed to increase the navigational clearance of the Bayonne Bridge, will raise the deck by 64 feet from 151 feet to 215 feet, and will provide drivers with a new, modern roadway with safer 12-foot lanes, shoulders, a median divider, and a 12-foot-wide bike and pedestrian walkway. It also will provide for future mass-transit options across the span.
“We're going to get this bridge done and protect the jobs of the people of the state of New Jersey," Christie said. “Just so that you know, while there are going to be a lot of benefits to this job off into the future there are going to be a lot of benefits today: 2,500 construction jobs to do that bridge the way it needs to be done right now. What that means for those 2,500 families is steady work, good pay to be able to pay their mortgage, put food on the table, put money aside for their families.”
The Bayonne Bridge project is extremely critical to maintain the Port of New York and New Jersey as the East Coast’s leading destination for international shippers. Currently, the port handles 30 percent of all goods shipped to the East Coast, and in 2011 it handled more cargo containers than its closest competitors—Savannah, Norfolk, and Baltimore—combined.
The Port Authority has invested more than $2 billion over the past 10 years to build new port infrastructure, resulting in the largest rail capacity of any East Coast port. It also has the most terminal capacity and berth capacity, the largest labor force, and the largest trucking fleet on the East Coast. The port has more shipping services to more destinations than any port on the East Coast, and goods shipped to the port can reach more than 100 million customers in 24 hours, a feat no other port can match.
But if the Bayonne Bridge is not raised, it would lose container ship traffic to other ports. Port facilities are facing fierce competition for port business, making the Bayonne Bridge project even more critical to maintaining the Port of New York and New Jersey’s competitive edge. Major investments are being made by other East Coast ports to attract business, including a $450 million investment by the Port of Miami to build a new tunnel connecting the port to the roadway network, and a $300 million investment by the South Carolina State Ports Authority to pay for channel deepening in the Port of Charleston.
Christie said when he came into office in 2010 he was surprised to learn that nobody had done anything about the bridge. He said political leaders in both parties had talked about the issue since the 1970s, but had done nothing.
“I asked why we aren’t already doing something,” Christie said. “In New Jersey we know nothing is given to us, and that if we want economic growth, we’re going to have to fight for our fair share.”
He said the Bayonne Bridge project in conjunction with other bridge projects will help the local economy.
“But we must stick together. This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, this is about jobs,” he said. “The worker who doesn’t have enough money to put food on his table or pay for clothing, doesn’t care if it is a Democratic or Republic solution, that person just wants a solution. We have to set aside politics and make sure that we put people back to work. This is a new era for a great port and for the region as well. We want those ships to come here. We want highly skilled workers here. We have tough people in this state, who work hard to make sure the job gets done.”
Larger ships are expected to begin arriving from China—via a newly widened Panama Canal—to the East Coast at some point in 2015.
“We will be ready,” Christie promised.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.