On Aug. 26, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a $248 million allocation from the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program for the Portal Bridge replacement project.
The 110-year-old Portal Bridge spans the Hackensack River from Kearny to Secaucus, carrying a daily average of 450 trains and 200,000 passengers.
The decrepit, swing-style bridge is notorious for breaking down and getting stuck in the open position for marine traffic, stranding commuters and bringing Amtrak and NJ Transit service to a halt.
Under the Gateway Program, the Portal Bridge would be replaced by the Portal North Bridge, estimated at $1.8 billion. The new bridge would be higher than the current one and fixed in place, eliminating malfunctions.
The project includes construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan, among other improvements.
Thumbs up from NJ officials
U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee; Cory Booker (D-N.J.); and U.S. Representatives Albio Sires (N.J.-08); Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09); Donald Payne, Jr. (N.J.-10); Tom Malinowski (N.J.-07); and Mikie Sherrill (N.J.-11) applauded the funding.
“I am pleased that this much-needed funding for the North Portal Bridge replacement project has been awarded despite the Trump Administration’s attempts at vetoing our efforts to improve this critical infrastructure,” said Sires, who represents Kearny and sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The federal funding comes from appropriations that the congressional delegation provided to the CIG program in the 2018 and 2019 budgets, despite Trump’s opposition.
“Despite the President’s veto threat, we fought hard in the Congress in subsequent budget years to beef up funding for federal transit programs to ensure there was money available to move Gateway forward,” Menendez said.
Fighting for funding
The FTA announced in June that the project had moved into the engineering phase of the CIG program.
This came after the FTA announced in February that it had upgraded the rating to medium-high, making the project eligible for the engineering phase and closer to full federal funding. NJ Transit had requested approximately $800 million in CIG funds.
In May, the delegation announced more than $91.5 million from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the project and to improve service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC.)
In 2015, Menendez, Booker, Sires, and Pascrell helped secure a $16 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to fund $20 million in preliminary construction, which broke ground in the fall of 2017.
“When the portal bridge was built, William Howard Taft was in the White House and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics won the World Series,” said Pascrell. “It’s been long past time to replace this transit chokepoint for our region.”
Delays and lost revenue
The NEC Commission estimates that a disruption of service from Boston to Washington, D.C. would cost the country $100 million a day in lost economic activity.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified that any sustained closing of the NEC due to a failure of the Portal Bridge or Hudson River rail tunnels would put the economy at significant risk.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Coast Guard moved to permanently restrict marine traffic along the Hackensack River during morning and evening rush hours to eliminate the need for the Portal Bridge to open.
“We must continue to fight for long-term solutions to replace our crumbling infrastructure by moving projects like Gateway forward in order to help ensure commuter safety and increase our economic competitiveness,” Booker said.
“I won’t let up until we complete the entire Gateway Project and build a 21st century transportation system that ensures New Jersey’s and the region’s economic vitality for generations to come,” Menendez said.
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