Portal North Bridge project underway in South Kearny

Construction of a new, more reliable Portal North Bridge in South Kearny is underway, as the Gateway Program partners broke ground Friday, Oct. 13, on $20 million worth of early work activities. The higher clearance, fixed-span Portal North Bridge will permit trains’ faster speeds, allow for an increase in NJ Transit train capacity and eliminate a single point of failure on the busiest section of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The Portal North Bridge project is a critical component of the Gateway Program — a comprehensive rail investment program designed to add critical resiliency and create new capacity on the 10-mile stretch of the NEC between Newark and Penn Station New York.

This is the busiest section of railroad in North America, supporting 450 daily and commuter intercity trains and some 200,000 passenger trips.

“The Gateway Program is the most urgent infrastructure program in America,” said Gateway Program Development Corporation Chairman Rich Bagger. “Eliminating single points of failure like the Portal Bridge and Hudson River tunnel that put 10% of America’s GDP at increased risk must be one of our highest infrastructure priorities.”

“The start of construction on the Portal North Bridge demonstrates the commitment of the Gateway partners to this important project of national significance,” said Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia.  “A new Portal Bridge will improve reliability on the Northeast Corridor, benefiting both New York and New Jersey, as well as the region and nation as a whole.”

The early construction work, a necessary step toward major construction of the bridge approaches and span, includes realignment of a 138kV transmission pole, installation of new fiber optic cable poles, construction of a finger pier, construction of a steel bridge structure over the Jersey City Municipal Utility Authority water main and construction of a retaining wall just west of the Frank R. Lautenberg Station at Secaucus Junction.

Funding was provided through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program. A $16 million grant was matched by $4 million from the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund.

“The replacement of the aging Portal Bridge is the first step toward ensuring a sound and efficient rail transportation system that will serve millions of riders now and well into the future,” New Jersey Gov. Christopher J. Christie said. “This project is vital to our economy and the safety of millions of local commuters and people from around the world who use mass transportation along the Northeast Corridor. By working cooperatively with New York and federal lawmakers and officials, we hope to identify funding for this and the Hudson River tunnel projects that is fair and equitable for New Jersey taxpayers.”

The new Portal North Bridge is fully designed and fully permitted, having received a Record-of-Decision from the Federal Railroad Administration in 2013, which was adopted by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in August.

In July 2016, the project was accepted into the FTA’s Capital Investment Grant (CIG) project development pipeline. A rating package submitted by the project partners in September 2016 received a “medium-high” rating and was updated this September with a more detailed financial plan.

To supplement financial commitments by the local partners, including $284 million by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and approximately $300 million from the State of New Jersey and NJ TRANSIT, the project partners are seeking approximately $750 million of the estimated $1.5 billion project cost in Core Capacity/CIG funds.

“Today’s groundbreaking is the first step in the Gateway project’s broader mission to remake the Northeast Corridor,” U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat of the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee, said at last week’s mock groundbreaking. “We make public investments in infrastructure for a reason: they benefit the public. Families, workers, businesses — all of us reap the gains.  Thanks to language that we included in the most recent transportation bill, Gateway will be eligible for billions in future funding from the New Starts program, a federal commitment toward building a 21st century infrastructure.”

Built in 1910, the existing portal bridge is a two-track, moveable swing-span bridge that opens for marine traffic, halting rail service on the NEC. The new bridge will have twice the clearance over the river, eliminating the need for a moveable span, permitting higher speeds and facilitating an increase in capacity.

The Gateway Program also proposes a second, two-track Portal South Bridge to support an approximate doubling of rail capacity between Newark and New York.

It is not immediately clear when the project will be complete.

— Kevin Canessa

The Observer Staff