Replacing century-old rail bridge will benefit Northeast Corridor commuters, economy

Commuters in New Jersey’s 18th Legislative District and across the state who ride NJ TRANSIT or Amtrak along the Northeast Corridor line will soon benefit from the construction of a new railroad bridge.

Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., who chairs the Senate Transportation committee, was among several state legislators, U.S. Senators and congressional representatives who joined Governor Phil Murphy and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg for a Portal North Bridge groundbreaking ceremony in Kearny on Monday morning.

The soon-to-be-constructed bridge will replace the existing 111-year-old Portal Bridge, which before the onset of the pandemic carried more than 200,000 passengers on 450 NJ TRANSIT and Amtrack trains daily over the Hackensack River.

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The two-track moveable swing bridge, located just west of Secaucus Junction, is a critical link between Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station.

The heavily traveled span has been a major bottleneck and source of delays, particularly when the aging bridge malfunctions during opening and closing for maritime traffic.  Commuters have reportedly experienced 2,000 hours of delays over a five-year period as the swing bridge malfunctioned about 14 percent of the time.

The new bridge will span 2.5 miles and stand 50 feet above the Hackensack River, eliminating the need for a swing bridge by allowing maritime traffic to pass beneath it unimpeded.

“This project will literally change the dynamic of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area,” Diegnan said. “Twenty percent of our economy flows through this area and it could not be a more important project.”

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A $1.56 billion contract for the project, the largest awarded in NJ TRANSIT’S history, includes construction of retaining walls, deep foundations, concrete piers, structural steel bridge spans, rail systems, demolition of the existing bridge, and related incidental works.

Construction is expected to take approximately four years to complete as part of the broader Gateway Program, a comprehensive rail investment project which will eventually double rail capacity between New Jersey and New York.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, Transportation Trust Fund, New Jersey Turnpike Authority and Amtrak are funding the Portal North Bridge’s construction.

Murphy secured nearly $800 million in Federal Transit Administration funding to support the project’s final design and construction.

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