empty train seats

Portal North Bridge Receives Designation To Move Forward

The key federal agency upgraded a project to improve the commute of those dependent on trains in North Jersey.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) upgraded the $1.8 billion project to replace the Portal North Bridge to a “medium-high” rating, allowing the project to move into the engineering phase putting it on track to receive federal funding, according Sen. Bob Menendez.

The bridge’s replacement is part of the $11 billion Gateway plan to rehabilitate the damaged and aging rail tunnels between New York and New Jersey, and build two new ones. Gateway’s priority status remained at “medium-low.” Since President Donald Trump took office, the two projects both received medium-low rating from the administration, making them ineligible to receive federal funds under the Capital Investment Grant program. The projects had been rated higher under President Barack Obama.

Sen. Menendez stated the priority upgrade was the most significant step forward for the Gateway Program since Trump was elected. 

“As I have said repeatedly, we can get Gateway done faster and cheaper with President Trump fully onboard,” declared Menendez. “While it is my hope that the advancement of Portal Bridge represents a recognition by the Trump Administration that Gateway is a project of national significance, the continued low ratings for the Hudson River tunnels show that we must remain vigilant and continue to hold this Administration’s feet to the fire.

The Portal North Bridge swing-span crossing in Kearny can get stuck after it opens for passing vessels, requiring a worker with a sledgehammer to bang it into place in order for Northeast Corridor train traffic to move on to destinations including Secaucus and New York Penn Station and beyond. 

One Step Closer

“Today’s decision puts us one step closer toward our ultimate goal: replacing this unreliable, century-old bridge and reducing delays for NJ Transit customers,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “New Jersey remains ready and willing to work cooperatively as a full partner to ensure that this project, which affects the commutes of tens of thousands of our residents daily, is completed as expeditiously as possible.”

The effort to get a more favorable rating from the FTA included the governor doubling the local funding pledge for the bridge to $600 millionan a new application for federal funds and collaboration between New Jersey’s delegation. The Federal Railroad Administration maintained the project is ineligible to receive federal funds because of issues with the application for federal funds.

New Jersey delegation has pushed the Department of Transportation to release congressionally-directed funds to start this project for years. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who had lambasted Secretary Elaine Cho after a recent nightmarish evening commute from Penn Station, was pleased with news that progress is coming.

“I’m glad to see the Department of Transportation recognizes the financial commitment of New Jersey to this project and has changed its rating to reflect the urgency of this project and ensure progress toward getting shovels in the ground,” said Sherrill. “Our commuters, businesses, and residents in North Jersey have waited a long time for this announcement.”

Effect on Economy

Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Josh Gottheimer welcomed the news as well.

Today marks an important step forward in replacing the century-old portal bridge, said Booker. “Delays caused by aging infrastructure like the Portal Bridge not only keep families apart, but they threaten the economic strength of our entire region.”

Gottheimer echoed the effects the project will have on the economy.

“We know that infrastructure investment gives one of the best returns on investment of anything,” said Gottheimer. “We know that commuters depend on these tunnels to get to work, so they can provide for their families. We know that if one of the tunnels were to crumble, it would cost the regional economy $100 million a day.”

Critical Project for NJ Transit

More than 450 trains a day carrying almost 200,000 passengers cross the current bridge every weekday.

“This critical project can’t wait any longer as this nearly 110-year-old bridge is a frequent source for delays and frustration for our nearly 90,000 customers who travel to and from Penn Station New York every day,” said Kevin Corbett, president and chief executive of NJ Transit.

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