In Brief

State, federal officials break ground — again — on Portal Bridge replacement

By: - August 1, 2022 12:53 pm

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg appeared in Kearny on Aug. 1, 2022, to call the aging and deteriorating Portal Bridge “the very finest state-of-the-art engineering of the Teddy Roosevelt administration.” (Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office).

State and federal officials gathered Monday to break ground again on a replacement for a critical, century-old rail bridge spanning the Hackensack River, promising the long-delayed project will energize the region’s economy by bringing some reliability to North Jersey commuters and freight.

The new span will replace the nearly 112-year-old Portal Bridge, which is the cause of frequent delays when it opens for sea traffic and fails to lock back into place to allow trains to cross it.

“For so many commuters, it has been difficult to know that you can count on our 111-year-old infrastructure. It is the very finest state-of-the-art engineering of the Teddy Roosevelt administration, but we need something different and something better,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said at the event in Kearny.

The groundbreaking — the third to be held for the new Portal Bridge since 2017 — follows an agreement between New York and New Jersey to split evenly the roughly $772 million in costs not covered by federal dollars. The total cost of the first phase of the project, which includes the Portal Bridge replacement and construction of a new Hudson River tunnel, is $2.7 billion.

NJ Transit, which along with Amtrak will provide additional funding for the project, in April approved a $1.6 billion contract for the bridge’s construction, crucial funding for a region that produces roughly one-tenth of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Officials said that number could be higher if the region’s commuters could more readily rely on their routes to work.

“It’s limiting and it’s unreliable,” Sen. Bob Menendez said of the existing bridge. “One out of every seven times, it fails to lock back into place after opening for ships to pass, and when that happens, a crew of maintenance workers … take out their sledgehammers and try to bring it back into position in the 21st Century.”

The Portal Bridge replacement is one part of the Gateway project, which includes the new trans-Hudson rail tunnel into New York City and rehabilitation of the crumbling 112-year-old tunnel currently in use by Amtrak and NJ Transit trains.

“We haven’t seen infrastructure investment like this that we’re undertaking across our state — or in the country, for that matter — for a generation or more. We’re building a stronger New Jersey not just for today, but for the economy of tomorrow,” Murphy said.

Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Portal Bridge project in 2017 when Chris Christie was still governor and then again in October with Biden in attendance.

An earlier version of this story should have said the $2.7 billion project cost includes construction of the new Portal Bridge and a new Hudson River tunnel.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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