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Gateway Program marks 108th birthday of Portal Bridge, North River Tunnel

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Gateway Program Development Corp. Spokesman Stephen Sigmund blows a candle off a cake celebrating the 108th anniversary of train service into Penn Station New York via the Portal Bridge and North River Tunnel with Gateway Trustees Jerry Zaro, Steven Cohen and Tony Coscia.
Gateway Program Development Corp. Spokesman Stephen Sigmund blows a candle off a cake celebrating the 108th anniversary of train service into Penn Station New York via the Portal Bridge and North River Tunnel with Gateway Trustees Jerry Zaro, Steven Cohen and Tony Coscia. - ()

Gateway Program Development Corp. trustees marked the 108th anniversary of train service into Penn Station New York via the Portal Bridge and North River Tunnel with a “delay cake” at their meeting Tuesday.

“This is not a happy birthday cake,” Stephen Sigmund, Gateway spokesman said. “The cake represents frustrated commuters and closed tunnels.”

The nonprofit Gateway corporation is responsible for planning an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion infrastructure project that will feature the construction of a new two-track Hudson River rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan, directly serving New York Penn Station, and the rehabilitation of the 106-year old North River Tunnel.

At the meeting, Sigmund gave a presentation on the start of the tunnel.

“The reason for the tunnel is the same as it is now: to connect New Jersey with New York City,” he said. “Even in 1910 there were problems with the Portal Bridge failing to close.”

The Portal Bridge opens to allow ships to cross the Hackensack River. When stuck in the open position, it halts New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains between Washington, D.C., and Boston, forcing Amtrak employees to manually return the bridge into place, using sledgehammers and heavy equipment.

The custom-crafted “delay cake” depicted the tunnel entrance with red signals, backed up trains and frustrated commuters. Trustees said the cake reflects the unreliable century-old tunnel infrastructure. 

Reducing known unkowns

Gateway Interim Finance Director Francis Sacr gave an update on the request for information issued by the corporation to gather input from the private sector.

“We have had one-on-one meetings with every respondent,” Sacr said. “That entails more than 20 meetings with 80 people. We have learned that the market is ready to start the project. It is a project not only of national significance but global interest.”

“We have had a lot of dialogue on early work opportunities,” Sacr continued. “We are going to provide project data, in particular geotechnical data. This is an important item because it is identified as one of the major risks of the project. We want to reduce the number of unknowns.”

During public comment, former Long Island Rail Road Director of Planning Joe Clift sounded an alarm, accusing Gateway trustees—Jerry Zaro, Steven Cohen and Tony Coscia—of engaging in propaganda, saying the Portal North Bridge rarely opens for boats.

“The trustees need to take a hard look at the way the project is going now,” Clift said. “Both projects are dead on arrival in Washington. You are not going to be able to move to the design phase. The Portal North Bridge does not exceed the 10 percent peak improvement. You do not qualify for the $800 million capacity grant.”

Dani Simons, vice president of strategic communications from the Regional Plan Association and head of Build Gateway Now, wants the new Congress to fund the project. She told the Gateway trustees they are being held accountable.

“The Hudson River Tunnel is not aging well,” Simons said. “We have local commitments to funding this project. Now we need the feds to deliver.”

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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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