While the city of Bayonne recently celebrated the news that the Port Authority has awarded a $743.3 million contract to raise the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge—and work will likely start before the end of the year—local officials said they had worked out side agreements that would address possible concerns from residents living near the construction site. They have also resolved some issues regarding the playgrounds and ball fields that cannot be used during the construction phase.
The city has worked out an agreement with the Port Authority that would bring to the city coffers $1.1 million in payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) annually retroactive to 2010 for the portion of Global Container Terminals that is in Bayonne.
The Port Authority purchased Global in 2010, and might not have otherwise paid taxes on the property, city officials said.
As part of the Port Authority’s bridge construction program, the Board of Commissioners on April 24 awarded a $743.3 million contract to Skanska Koch, Inc. / Kiewit Infrastructure Co. (JV) team as part of a $1.29 billion program to increase the navigational clearance of the Bayonne Bridge. The project will raise the deck by 64 feet and 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.
The Bayonne Bridge is a steel arch bridge that connects Bayonne with Staten Island over the Kill Van Kull. The bridge was designed by O.H. Ammann, a Swiss-American bridge builder who also designed the George Washington Bridge. It is owned and operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“I’ve been a vocal advocate for a solution to the Bayonne Bridge height issue for years,” said Smith.
The Port Authority plans to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge from its current 151-foot clearance to 215 feet above the Kill Van Kull to accommodate large Panamax ships that will be able to navigate through the Panama Canal after it is upgraded in 2014.
Howland Hook in Mariners Harbor, Staten Island, and ports in Newark and Elizabeth would be impacted if these larger ships could not clear the bridge and had to unload elsewhere.
Fortunately for Bayonne and the facilities along Newark Bay, the Panama Canal upgrade is behind schedule. It is expected that project will not be completed until sometime in late 2015, said Rep. Albio Sires, who took a trip to Panama last year to look over the situation.
The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that 12 percent of all international containers entering the United States pass under the Bayonne Bridge, and raising it will produce an estimated $3.3 billion national benefit.
A New York Shipping Association, Inc., study found that the ports produce approximately 269,900 direct and indirect jobs and nearly $11 billion in annual wages.
Mayor Mark Smith said he was happy to support the project which will create thousands of long-term, well-paying union construction and related jobs during a difficult economy. He also pointed out that the raising of the bridge will ensure the port’s viability, as shipping companies switch to ever-larger ships which are restricted from accessing the port under the existing bridge configuration.
“I’ve been a vocal advocate for a solution to the Bayonne Bridge height issue for years,” said Smith. “The Port Authority is to be commended for their creative solution and dogged determination to get this job done. I’m happy that a qualified contractor has been engaged and I look forward to watching the implementation of this innovative solution.”
Smith continued, “The Bayonne Bridge is an important transportation link for our residents. It is critical that it remain in service to maintain our community’s circle of mobility in the region. The selected construction method does just that.”
Smith has been advised that construction activity should ramp up later this year.
Bridge project fast-tracked by the White House
The Bayonne Bridge project is the first time in agency history that engineers will construct a bridge roadway deck above the existing roadway, while traffic continues to flow on the deck below. Work will start later this year, the deck is scheduled for removal in late 2015. One lane of traffic will operate in each direction throughout the life of the project, with overnight and limited weekend closures.
The Bayonne Bridge Raise the Roadway plan is included in President Obama’s 2012 We Can’t Wait Initiative of expedited infrastructure projects. The Port Authority was among the first in the country to apply for the program in March of 2012. The project will create more than 2,500 construction jobs for the region, $380 million in wages, and more than $1.6 billion in economic activity. Skanska Koch / Kiewit has committed to focusing on employing local, small, and minority- and women-owned businesses in all areas of the project.
“The Board’s approval of the Bayonne Bridge project is a critical step toward preserving the Port of New York and New Jersey’s standing as the premier hub port and gateway for the East Coast,” said Port Authority Chairman David Samson. “This investment of $1.29 billion to raise the roadway is a clear example of the agency’s strong commitment to improve its aging facilities and continue to serve as the key economic engine in the region.”
The Port Authority anticipates work beginning later this year on the Bayonne Bridge navigational clearance program, pending completion of the environmental review and permitting process. The Port Authority’s short animation video details how engineers plan to raise the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge. To view it, visit panynj.gov
Some local issues resolved
While the Port Authority has promised to keep local impacts to a minimum, park facilities located at the foot of the bridge, which include a playground, a dog run, and two ball fields, will not be open to the public once construction starts. This includes a ball field reconstructed in 2006 as a result of a donation from Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, after the filming of “War of the Worlds” there.
Business Administrator Steve Gallo said the Port Authority has agreed to relocate the playground facilities and set up a duplicate park elsewhere to accommodate local kids.
He said this will not be the case for the ball fields and that discussions with the Little League have determined that existing fields can be modified to handle the game schedule.
“After the construction is done, the situation will be reevaluated,” Gallo said.
Equally important, the agreement with the Port Authority will allow the city to hire an independent engineer to evaluate any issues residents might have. This means an engineer retained by the city will be on call to evaluate situations as they come up and neither the city nor its residents will have to rely on the opinions given by engineers in the employ of the Port Authority, Gallo said.
This is not to suggest that the city has a hostile relationship with the Port Authority.
“We have a great relationship with the Port Authority,” Gallo said.
But he said that the city, by having its own engineer, provides the public with an independent opinion.
PILOT payments for Global Terminal
In a separate deal, the city and Port Authority came to an agreement that will provide the city with $1.1 million in annual PILOT payments for the portion of Global Container Terminals that the Port Authority purchased two years ago.
“As a public entity, the Port Authority doesn’t have to pay us taxes,” Gallo said. “This payment is about equal what they would pay if they did.”
Global, which is currently upgrading its facilities, will become one of the first port facilities in the New York area to be able to handle the larger ships coming out of Panama, making it one of the key ports for the region. In conjunction with this, Global Container Terminals is upgrading its rail-link facilities to be able to transport container freight out of the port area, rather than exclusively use truck traffic.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.