A key piece in the transportation network

Jersey City to turn over Secaucus property for Portal Bridge project
The Portal Bridge, a key part of the Northeast Corridor train route, needs to be rebuilt.
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The Portal Bridge, a key part of the Northeast Corridor train route, needs to be rebuilt.

Jersey City is poised to sell 14 acres of land it owns in Secaucus as a key piece in the construction of a new Portal Bridge by NJ Transit.

“The property had some deed restrictions,” said Brian Platt, business administrator for Jersey City.

The landlocked parcel in the Laurel Hill section of Secaucus had been set aside for recreation and conservation purposes under an agreement with Hudson County, which owns Laurel Hill County Park and High-Tech High School nearby.

NJ Transit needs to use the land to complete its Portal Bridge replacement project; the restrictions must be released before NJ Transit can begin work.

The Jersey City Council was poised to lift the deed restrictions at its Jan. 9 meeting but delayed the action until Jan. 22 in order to allow NJ Transit to take several needed actions first.

Spans the Hackensack 

The Portal Bridge is a railroad bridge over the Hackensack River in Kearny and Secaucus just west of Secaucus Junction. The two-track, movable swing-span is owned and operated by Amtrak as part of the Northeast Corridor and also used by NJ Transit. As of 2015, it was considered the busiest train span in the Western Hemisphere carrying between 150,000 and 200,000 passengers per day.

The new design will allow trains to cross the bridge at up to 90 mph and the bridge will be elevated to 50 feet above high water to allow marine traffic to pass below it without any need to open and close.

The bridge is one piece of the larger, $30 billion Gateway Project to rebuild and expand rail infrastructure between Newark and Manhattan.

The 107-year-old North River Tunnel, which carries thousands of Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers between New York City and New Jersey each day, is in desperate need of renovation. The upgrades would increase rider capacity along the Northeast Corridor.

The big picture

The larger effort will include two tracks in a proposed new Hudson River Tunnel that will be a temporary replacement for the existing two-track tunnel, built in 1910. Because of tunnel flooding by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the existing tunnel faces serious challenges, especially to the already out-of-date switches and wiring. Many of the delays to daily travel to Manhattan are due to emergency repairs to the existing tunnel.

Transit officials said they need to shut down the existing tunnel in order to properly repair and upgrade it, and that can’t happen until they have the new tunnel up and operating.

The project has been hampered by budget battles with the Trump Administration. Recently, North Jersey regained representation on a key transportation committee, something it last had when Rep. Steve Rothman represented the district. Rothman lost his seat in a primary election to Rep. Bill Pascrell after redistricting following the 2010 U.S. Census consolidated their districts.

The appointment of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Bergen County Democrat, to the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, will likely help push the project ahead. Watson is the first woman from New Jersey to sit on this powerful committee, which oversees all federal spending bills.

Last year because of issues with the Portal Bridge, 140 trains were canceled, delaying more than 100,000 passengers.

Cargo and passengers depend on the bridge

Meanwhile, NJ Transit is working on other aspects of the Gateway Project, such as the reconstruction of the Portal Bridge, which is considered a choke point in the North Jersey transportation network. Fiber-optic technology will be introduced to the lighting system and weight sensors on the bridge.

The Portal Bridge is also tied to a new track alignment west of the Secaucus station that will rise dramatically over the landscape on a 2-percent grade. That’s a two-foot rise for every 100 feet of track that will allow the new bridge to clear any barges on the river.

The Northeast Rail Corridor, which relies on the North River Tunnel and the Portal Bridge accounts for about $4 trillion in transported goods, as well as about 450 daily trains to New York City.

Last year because of problems with the Portal Bridge, 140 trains were canceled, delaying more than 100,000 passengers.

How Jersey City came to have oversight over the 14-acre parcel is unclear. But, according to Platt, the Jersey City business administrator, it has become a critical part of the region’s transportation network plan.

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