Bayonne Bridge Roadway Raising Comes Down to the Wire — Ahead of Schedule

John Reitmeyer | May 3, 2017 | Transportation
In just a few weeks some of the world’s largest megaships will be able to cruise under newly elevated infrastructure and reach Port Newark-Elizabeth

Credit: Wikipedia
Infrastructure upgrades, like lifting the Bayonne Bridge (shown in progress) to let the largest cargo ships reach Port Newark-Elizabeth, are a boon for the warehouse industry.
Beset by a series of delays at its outset, the Port Authority’s bridge-raising project at the Bayonne Bridge is now ahead of its latest construction schedule, meaning the largest ships in the world should be able to reach Port Newark-Elizabeth in a matter of weeks.

The $1.6 billion project, which was started in 2013, is considered crucial for the future of New Jersey’s port region, as well as a broader state economy that is becoming increasingly tied to the logistics and warehouse industry.

A recently widened Panama Canal now allows megaships coming from Asia to reach ports on the East Coast, and the bridge-raising effort is aimed at making sure New Jersey’s terminals will be able to handle those larger ships now coming through the canal.

Officials from the Port Authority were joined by Gov. Chris Christie at Maher Terminals in Elizabeth yesterday to announce that the bridge-raising project is now six months ahead of a construction schedule that was revised by the Port Authority after a series of initial delays. The current schedule calls for the bridge clearance to be increased to 215 feet by June 30, matching the height of the nearby Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The entire project will be completed in 2019.

The finish line

“This is a project that I’ve been working on for over seven years, and the fact that on June 30 it will finally be ready to do what we need to do — which is let those great ships come in here and unload their goods right here in New Jersey — is something that’s going to be great for generations to come in our state,” Christie said during the event.

The announcement was made as Christie, a second-term Republican who is now in his last year in office, has been holding a series of events in recent weeks to highlight the state’s improving economy, including an unemployment rate that’s currently lower than the national jobless rate.

But it also came as New Jersey Transit riders have been facing a series of commuting problems in recent weeks, bringing new attention to the infrastructure-investment decisions that have been made by both Christie and the bistate Port Authority during his tenure, which began in early 2010.

Low bridge

Opened to traffic in 1931, the Bayonne Bridge links Bayonne with Staten Island by spanning the Kill Van Kull. The original roadbed is 151 feet above the water below, which is 64 feet lower than the nearby Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Christie said his administration made the raising of the Bayonne Bridge roadbed a top priority for the Port Authority after he took office in early 2010, and yesterday he credited now disgraced former Port Authority chairman David Samson and others at the bistate agency for helping to spearhead the project. Thought it was started in 2013 and the original goal was to boost the ship clearance under the bridge by 2015, the Port Authority later revised the construction schedule following a harsh 2014-2015 winter and several other setbacks.

Now six months ahead of that revised schedule, Port Authority chairman John Degnan yesterday called the project “one of incredible regional economic impact.”

The announcement was also lauded by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who said in a statement that the recently renewed state Transportation Trust Fund will ensure the state now has the resources to maintain its freight-rail infrastructure.

“The raising of the Bayonne Bridge and the arrival of the new container ships, that will preserve the economic strength of our port, is a great example of how crucial infrastructure investment is for our economy,” Sweeney said.

Economic gains

In all, the Port Authority has estimated that its ports support 336,600 full-time jobs in the region, as well as a combined $75 billion in personal and business income.

“This project is going to bolster the reputation of an already great port, and one that does as much or more business than almost any port in the world,” Christie said.

The funding for the bridge-raising project came from a controversial toll and fare-hike plan that was approved by the Port Authority in 2011, a year after Christie announced that he was stopping work on a long-planned trans-Hudson tunnel project that also would have used funds from the Port Authority to help pay for a new rail tunnel linking New Jersey with New York City. The original plan for that tunnel project, dubbed Access to the Region’s Core or ARC, called for it to open at a new terminal near Herald Square as early as 2018.

ARC goes dark

After pulling the plug on the ARC project, Christie threw his support behind the more than $20 billion Gateway project, which calls for the building of two new rail tubes between New Jersey and Penn Station in New York. But federal funding for that project has now been put in question under an initial budget sketch that was released by President Donald Trump.

Also a concern for commuters is the deteriorating infrastructure inside Penn Station in New York, which is owned by Amtrak. The federal agency’s latest plans to address those problems includes a series of expedited repairs that are planned for this summer.

State lawmakers who’ve been keeping a close eye on recent derailments and a series of other commuting problems urged Amtrak officials yesterday to do everything they can to minimize the impact on New Jersey commuters as the major repair effort at Penn Station gets underway. Right now, the biggest disruptions are expected to occur between July 7 and July 25, and August 4 and August 28.

“New Jersey commuters endured a week of massive overcrowding and unacceptable delays in the week following the April 3 Amtrak derailment when eight tracks were shut down,” said Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen). “We can’t expect them to suffer through an entire summer like that.”

Sweeney yesterday also stressed the need to improve “additional Port Authority transportation assets like a new bus terminal and rail tunnels.”