Portal North Bridge project moves closer to funding agreement

Passengers constantly delayed on the 109-year-old bridge

A 3-D model of the 109-year-old Portal Bridge by Google Maps.
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A 3-D model of the 109-year-old Portal Bridge by Google Maps.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has announced its decision to give an improved project rating to a proposed replacement of the Portal Bridge.

The 109-year-old bridge has a long history of mechanical breakdowns and causes constant delays for train passengers travelling the Northeast Corridor between New Jersey and New York City, according to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Portal Bridge runs from Kearny to Secaucus, crossing the Hackensack River.

The bridge routinely opens to allow marine traffic to pass underneath, each opening causing delays on NJ Transit and AMTRAK lines. Sometimes the bridge fails to properly close, causing delays that affect tens of thousands of passengers.

According to Murphy, the replacement Portal North Bridge is designed as a high-level, fixed span bridge that will allow marine traffic to pass without interrupting rail traffic.

The FTA’s decision to improve the project rating brings the Portal North Project closer to a Full Funding Grant Agreement.

The Portal North Bridge is one of two projects that make up the Gateway Project. The other involves revamping the Hudson River tunnels.

A number of steps had been taken to complete the bridge project prior to the recent FTA decision to give a “medium-high” rating to the bridge project, which makes it eligible for federal funding.

The project is one hundred percent designed, fully permitted, and has seen early work completed on time and under budget, according to a press release. Once full construction begins, the remainder of the Portal North Bridge Project is estimated to take approximately five years.

“We have committed the entirety of New Jersey’s local share in the form of $600 million in EDA [Economic Development Authority] bonds, completed critical early construction work and developed shovel-ready plans for major construction,” Murphy said. “Today’s decision by USDOT puts us one step closer toward our ultimate goal; replacing this unreliable, century-old bridge and reducing delays for NJ TRANSIT customers.”

The Portal North Bridge Project is critical to eliminating the major disruptions to train service on the Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in the country.

A long-term outage of the Portal Bridge would result in catastrophic delays from Boston to the nation’s capital, according to the governor. Murphy said that the state remains ready to ensure that this project, which affects the commutes of tens of thousands of residents daily, is completed as expeditiously as possible.

Increased capacity and reliability

According to NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett, the project will increase capacity and ensure reliability for the more than 450 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains a day that cross the Portal Bridge.

Between NJ Transit and Amtrak, more than 450 trains cross the Portal Bridge each day, carrying almost 200,000 daily passengers.

“A new bridge will significantly increase reliability for the 200,000 daily Amtrak and NJ Transit customers that cross the Hackensack River each day,” said Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia.

NJ Transit alone carries approximately 90,000 customers, more than 180,000 passenger trips, between New Jersey and New York City on an average weekday. Corbett applauded the FTA rating, noting the constant delays caused by the malfunctioning of the current bridge.

“This critical project can’t wait any longer as this nearly 110-year-old bridge is a frequent source for delays and frustration for our nearly 90,000 customers who travel to and from Penn Station New York every day,” Corbett said.

New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner and NJ Transit Chair Diane Gutierrez- Scaccetti said that the antiquated bridge remains a single point of failure on the NEC, making its replacement a top priority.

“Any rail customer who commutes between New Jersey and New York City will attest to the importance of the reliability this bridge has on the quality of their daily lives,” she said.

While the North Portal Bridge project moves closer to receiving federal funding, the FTA denied further approval for the Hudson River tunnels, announcing a “medium-low” priority.

This designation ensures that the project does not meet the criteria for federal grant funding, further delaying the project.

The Hudson River Tunnels are another key rail juncture along the Northeast Corridor. According to Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Rick Cotton, the current tunnels could fail at any moment leading to a national emergency.

“This is not a game, this is real life, and at any point, the existing tunnels could fail, which would have a dire impact on millions of people and a profound negative effect on the national economy,” Cotton said.

State legislators, including Sen. Robert Menendez, have vowed to keep fighting for federal funding of the Hudson River Tunnels project despite the opposition from the FTA and the Trump Administration.

“As I have said repeatedly, we can get Gateway done faster and cheaper with President Trump fully on board,” Menendez said. “I will not stop fighting until Gateway is fully completed.  It is time to end the delays and build a 21st century transportation network that ensures the continued economic vitality of our state, region, and nation.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Dan Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.