Final federal funding for Portal North Bridge nears approval

The bridge is a key component of the Gateway Project

A digital rendering of the Portal North Bridge by Amtrak
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A digital rendering of the Portal North Bridge by Amtrak

New Jersey officials have announced $823.6 million in a federal Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for construction of the new Portal North Bridge.

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 Project, 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.

Final steps

The grant has been formally submitted to Congress for its statutorily-required 30-day review. The congressional review is the final step before federal funding is approved.

According to the agreement, the FTA will allocate $766.5 million in Capital Investment Grants (CIG) funding. An additional $57.1 million will be provided through the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program toward the $1.8 billion project.

Funding will include $811 million from the state and $261.5 million from Amtrak.

Building a new, higher, fixed Portal North Bridge is a key component of the broader Gateway Project, which includes modernizing the rail infrastructure between Newark and New York Penn Stations, construction of a new Hudson River rail tunnel, and rehabilitation of the existing century-old tubes that were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

NJ officials celebrate

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); Sen. 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); and Tom Malinowski (N.J.-07) applauded the funding.

“This is an important and long overdue milestone in our years-long fight to provide relief to delay-weary commuters and improve the safety and reliability of our transportation network,” said Menendez, ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee. “We are now on the cusp of securing the federal funding we need to replace the oft-malfunctioning Portal Bridge and getting construction underway on a new, modern span.”

“Delays caused by the unreliable, century-old Portal Bridge have plagued not only New Jersey commuters for far too long, but also commuters across the entire Northeast Corridor,” said Booker. 

“The Portal Bridge is a relic,” said Pascrell, who represents Secaucus and parts of Kearny. “It is far past time that we upgrade this dangerous structure and modernize our cross-river transportation … It is dead wrong that New Jerseyans have been forced to traverse a bridge that is more than a century old, and we won’t stand for it.”

“Replacing and upgrading this century-old infrastructure is crucial to ensuring that passengers no longer need to worry about delays caused by needing to set the bridge back in place,” said Sires, who represents parts of Kearny and sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “I have long fought to secure federal funding for the nation’s busiest passenger rail line, which is why I am glad to finally see progress being made on a critical piece to the Gateway Project.”

A long fight

In February, the Federal Transit Administration announced 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 June, the project had moved into the engineering phase of the CIG program. More than $91.5 million in funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was announced in May and to improve service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

In August, the FTA announced that $248 million had been set aside for the Portal Bridge replacement project. That funding comes from appropriations that the congressional delegation provided to the CIG program in the 2018 and 2019 budgets, despite opposition from the Trump Administration.

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.

Helping commuters

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.

And while the North Portal Bridge is coming to fruition, Menendez urged support for other aspects of the Gateway Project.

“Our work is far from over,” Menendez said. “We must continue building a 21st century transportation system that ensures New Jersey’s and the region’s economic vitality for generations to come. That is why I remain committed to advancing the construction of a new, trans-Hudson rail tunnel and completing the entire Gateway Project.”

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