The New Jersey Transit board of directors approved $600 million in New Jersey Economic Development Authority transportation bonds Wednesday to fund the replacement of the Portal Bridge as part of the Gateway project.
The existing swing bridge is 108 years old, spans the Hackensack River and is part of the Northeast Corridor rail system. When the bridge becomes stuck, trains do not have an alternate route to cross the river.
Supporters of the Gateway project want to eliminate this single point of failure.
“This funding is proof that Governor Murphy, NJ Transit and the state of New Jersey are firmly committed to advancing this vital transportation infrastructure project,” NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett said. “A better tomorrow for NJ Transit starts today. Our customers have suffered far too long from the outdated, unreliable Portal Bridge. A new bridge can’t wait any longer.”
The bonds will be paid back over a 30-year term from the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund.
“We’re not going to kick the can down the road any longer,” New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.
NJ Transit estimates the new bridge will allow for a 10 percent increase in peak hour passenger capacity.
The Gateway Project includes adding a rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York under the Hudson River at a price most estimates put north of $20 billion.
John D. Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corp. hailed the news.
"Today’s action is a major next step toward construction of a 21st century Portal North Bridge, a key element of the Gateway Program that will directly benefit the 200,000 passengers on NJ Transit and Amtrak trains that use the bridge every day." Porcari said. "This next step – commitment of the full local share of Portal North – demonstrates that the partners are 100% serious about making sure the vital set of projects that constitute Gateway are built."
Steven Thorpe, vice chairman of rider advocacy organization Lackawanna Coalition, opposed the issuance of $600 million in bonds.
“This bridge can be engineered around,” Thorpe said.
Some others speaking during the public comment section suggested NJ Transit buy electric buses. Norah Langwiler made this request on behalf of Jersey Renews, advocating for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Jersey Renews is a coalition of labor, faith, community and environmental organizations.
“Nearly 50 percent of greenhouse gas comes from auto emissions,” Langwiler said. “I ask you to purchase electric buses. There are benefits to electric buses. They save $500,000 over their lifespan. Transitioning to electric buses produces cleaner air. NJ Transit must invest in electric buses to ensure our future.”
In other actions, the board approved an $18 million contract with East Orange-based John O’Hara Company Inc. to build the Henderson Street Substation.
The board also approved a $5.7 million contract with New York-based Naik Group to provide construction management services at the Hoboken Terminal House Power Substation and the Henderson Street Substation.