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Gateway seeking financial adviser after approval of $600M bond

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The Portal North Bridge will be a fixed two-track structure spanning 2.33 miles that will not open for river traffic.
The Portal North Bridge will be a fixed two-track structure spanning 2.33 miles that will not open for river traffic. - ()

Gateway Development Program Corp. trustees voted Friday to approve authorization to issue a request for proposals seeking a financial advisory firm.

Vice Chairman Anthony Coscia, Chairman Steven Cohen and Trustee Jerry Zaro took this action after hearing from Gateway interim chief financial officer Frank Sacr.

“It will continue our engagement with the private sector,” Sacr said. “We will start to consider what is the best value for the money to deliver the program. We have used assistance from the Port Authority, which I am grateful for.”

The financial advisor will assist in developing a financial plan and procurement strategy for both the Portal North Bridge and Hudson Tunnel projects. The advisor will work closely with the Gateway Development Corp. staff to help develop procurement, funding and financing solutions that provide the best value for the money for the delivery of the projects.

The move comes two days after New Jersey Transit entered into an agreement with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to spend $600 million in bonds.

As a result of the release of bonds, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey’s commitment of $284 million moves from the Portal Bridge to the tunnels.

“We have made a strong application for both the bridge and the tunnel even stronger,” said John D. Porcari, Gateway’s interim executive director. “We are working closely with our federal partners on any perceived deficiencies on the application.”

“As part of the federal capital improvement grant process, we would hope for early action to get this underway as quickly as possible,” Porcari added. “For the first part of the Portal North Bridge to go to construction, New Jersey has elected to take the entire share. There will be equity among the parties over the series of projects.”  

A final environmental review has been issued to the federal government and is pending a decision, Porcari said.

“We went through an environmental impact statement process in near-record time with great cooperation on the federal side,” Porcari said. “We are looking forward to that record of decision so we can move to that next step.”

Porcari could not offer a time frame on a decision.

The Portal North Bridge will be a fixed two-track structure spanning 2.33 miles that will not open for river traffic. The scope of the project requires acquiring 25 multilevel cars to provide a greater than 10 percent increase in capacity. The existing bridge will be demolished. The speed limit will be 90 mph.

The early work on the Portal Bridge will continue into July and August. Timber decking is currently being installed.

During public comment, Joseph Clift, former director of planning and director of strategic planning for the Long Island Rail Road, told the trustees they need to control costs.  

“Mr. Cohen, as chair you have to start reigning in Gateway’s unaffordable $30 billion cost, beginning with Portal North,” Clift said. “Even after increasing NJEDA bonds to $600 million, it is still woefully underfunded. … You are still short $400 million. The project is too expensive.”

Clifton told Coscia to send his Amtrak engineers back to the drawing board and perform “the same magic” to replace the Portal Bridge as they did on the 2010 replacement of the Niantic River Bridge in Connecticut. 

New York, Clifton said, should also take more responsibility for local funding.  

“Portal North is now 100 percent New Jersey and 0 percent New York,” Clift said. “I thought this was a 50/50 project. … This project does not provide enough capacity. If you do not change direction, you are going to spend a lot of money.”

Chasity Cooper of the Region Plan Association commended Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett for supporting the $600 million in transportation bonds to replace Portal Bridge.

She said every hour the Portal Bridge is stuck open causes $6 million in damage through commuters’ lost work opportunities.

“Everyone in this room knows there is no time to lose,” Cooper said.

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David Hutter

David Hutter

David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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