Menendez talks Gateway Project with Transportation Secretary

Buttigieg said he would end "political interference that has slowed the project"

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Menendez and Buttigieg met via Zoom on Jan. 26.
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A digital rendering of the Portal North Bridge by Amtrak.
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Menendez and Buttigieg met via Zoom on Jan. 26.
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A digital rendering of the Portal North Bridge by Amtrak.

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee, discussed the future of the Portal North Bridge in a virtual meeting with Pete Buttigieg, President Biden’s Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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.

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.

Buttigieg on board

During the exchange on Jan. 26, ahead of Buttigieg’s confirmation vote to serve as Transportation Secretary, Menendez stressed the need to complete the full Gateway Project, which includes the construction of a new Portal Bridge and trans-Hudson rail tunnel, and urged the the secretary’s support.

“I had a really good exchange today with former Mayor Buttigieg,” Menendez said. “ I made clear that completing Gateway is not just critical to New Jersey but also to the entire region and our national economy, and I believe he understands the importance of the project. I look forward to working with him and the Biden Administration to move Gateway forward and advance a broader, robust package to modernize our country’s aging infrastructure.”

Buttigieg told the senator that he recognized the importance of the Gateway Project, and he pledged to end the political interference that has slowed the project, give it fair ratings, and review the long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement for the Hudson tunnels, which has been delayed for years under the Trump Administration.

Years in the making

A digital rendering of the Portal North Bridge by Amtrak

After four years of arbitrary delays, unsubstantiated rating cuts, and other roadblocks put up during the Trump Administration, a more than $800 million federal Full Funding Grant Agreement was reached in December that allows construction of a new Portal Bridge to move forward. Other funding will include $811 million from the state and $261.5 million from Amtrak.

In February of 2020, 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 Capital Investment Grant (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 was announced in May to improve service along the Northeast Corridor.

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, Sen. Booker, Rep. Sires, and Rep. Pascrell helped secure a $16 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to fund $20 million in preliminary construction, which broke ground in the fall of 2017.

Transportation relief

Menendez also urged Buttigieg to be a strong voice for more relief for transit agencies and private transportation providers, like ferries and motor coaches, in COVID relief negotiations. Menendez has led efforts in the Senate to provide additional resources to transit agencies struggling during the pandemic.

Buttigieg assured the senator he would help expedite release of funding already approved to help private transportation operators. He also said he would ensure transit is a central component of any future infrastructure package proposed by the Biden Administration.

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.