Gateway Project advances

Portal North Bridge included

A commitment has been made by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to advance the Gateway Project, including finishing the Portal North Bridge project and building a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.

The approximately 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.

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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 in 2012.

Forging ahead

The verbal commitment to the Gateway Project by Buttigieg was secured by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

“Will you commit to working with the project sponsors and Congressional delegations in the coming months to get the Gateway project done?” Menendez asked Buttigieg during a committee hearing.

“Yes, you have our commitment to work with your office, other members of the delegation, and the project sponsors,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “This is an example of a project that may be located in one region but is so critical that you would feel it anywhere in the country if there were to be, for example, a failure in one of these critical tunnels. So we’re continuing to see this move along and are committed to working with you to see it go forward.”

After years of political delay by the Trump Administration, the USDOT is working to publish the Environmental Impact Statement for the Gateway tunnels, Buttigieg said.

Menendez met with Buttigieg prior to his confirmation. At the time, the secretary had expressed support for Gateway and pledged to end the political interference from the previous administration that slowed the project.

In February, the Biden Administration reversed a Trump-era Federal Transit Administration (FTA) policy that prohibited states and local entities from using federal loans as part of their matching funds when applying for federal transportation grants.

Other officials weigh in

Earlier this month, Nuria Fernandez, President Biden’s nominee to be Federal Transit Administrator, also made a commitment to Sen. Menendez to work with stakeholders to advance Gateway.

“I agree that Gateway is a project of national significance. The Hudson Tunnel, which is part of the Gateway Program, is an essential link,” said Fernandez. “If confirmed, I commit to working with the project sponsors as they take all the necessary steps to complete the requirements for receipt of the funding.”

Last December, NJ TRANSIT and the FTA finalized a Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Portal North Bridge project, a key component of Gateway, allowing it to access over $800 million in federal funding primarily through the Capital Investment Grant program. The agreement allows construction of a new Portal North Bridge.

The FTA must issue a new rating for the project to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River in order for that phase of the Gateway Project to qualify for federal funding. Completion of this project will allow the old tunnels, which were badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy, to be temporarily taken out of service and repaired.

Should the existing Hudson River tunnels need to be taken out of service without a replacement, Amtrak estimates that a shutdown of the Northeast Corridor could cost nearly $100 million in transportation-related impacts and productivity losses per day.

NJ TRANSIT outreach

On May 19, NJ TRANSIT, through its Office of Business Development hosted the agency’s COVID-compliant virtual Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE) outreach and networking event to promote awareness and encourage participation in the Portal North Bridge project. Hundreds of national potential DBEs were invited to take part to learn about subcontracting opportunities on the Portal North Bridge project.

“The Portal North Bridge Project is an integral piece of New Jersey’s development and growth. And as such, I am proud that NJ Transit is committed to creating opportunities for small, socially and economically disadvantaged businesses to be a part of this undertaking,” said NJ TRANSIT Board Member Shanti Narra.

“NJ TRANSIT is committed to breaking down the barriers facing DBEs in the construction industry, and as this conference underscores, our strategy for Portal North is to maximize contract opportunities for certified DBEs,” said NJ TRANSIT President and CEO Kevin Corbett.

“This project represents an opportunity to develop a larger pool of qualified contractors that represents the diversity of the region we serve, in addition to improving service and reliability, generating billions of dollars in economic activity, and creating thousands of jobs to support New Jersey’s economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Attendees heard from New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver and Corbett along with industry partners, board members, and other elected officials who underscored the importance of the agency’s continued commitment to diversity in the contracting pool.

Once construction begins, the Portal North Bridge project is estimated to be completed in approximately five and a half years.

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.

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