Good news, NJ rail commuters: Portal North construction underway
KEARNY – Political leaders tossed ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt Monday at a ceremony celebrating the groundbreaking for the construction of a new Portal North Bridge, a key step toward doubling the capacity of train traffic between Newark and New York.
Construction on the current bridge began in 1905, and it has been in operation for 111 years. The plans and political jockeying for its replacement have likewise been around for a long time; U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a senator since 2006, said it goes back to his tenure in the House of Representatives.
“Over the years, this critical piece of infrastructure has evolved from a transit marvel into a transit nightmare,” said Menendez, who called the current bridge old, limiting, unreliable and a chokepoint on the region’s future.
The ceremony included federal, state, county, local and union officials, so many that the ceremonial groundbreaking had to held in three groups so the cameras could capture everyone.
“If you are a New Jersey commuter, this is a great day,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. “If you are a New Jersey taxpayer, dear God, all the money we give to the federal government, it’s about time we see more of it coming back.”
The first track of the new two-track bridge, a fixed span 50 feet over the Hackensack River that won’t have to opened so ships can pass underneath like the current swing bridge, is expected to be opened in 2026.
“After years of politically motivated delays under the previous administration, the leaders who are here have made sure that this will not slip,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This will get done on time.”
Gov. Phil Murphy called it the nation’s most important infrastructure project.
“For commuters and our economic future, we know that day cannot come quickly enough,” Murphy said of the Portal North Bridge’s replacement. “But it is finally coming.”
The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, New Jersey, New York, and Amtrak. The Federal Transit Administration committed $767 million in 2021. Last October, NJ Transit awarded a $1.56 billion construction award for the project, the largest in the agency’s history.
The bridge is one portion of the larger Gateway Program that includes the construction of a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River and rehabilitation of the current tunnels, which are old and were damaged by flooding during Superstorm Sandy nearly a decade ago.
The full Gateway plan isn’t yet fully funded. Between all its projects, it could cost $30 billion.
Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia expressed confidence all the parts of the program will get built eventually.
“We’re going to prove by building the Gateway Program that the United States is capable of building large, transformational infrastructure projects that are complicated, that, yes, are expensive, that may require more than an election cycle to complete,” Coscia said. “But we’re going to prove that we’re capable of doing it, and right here in New Jersey at this point is where we’re starting that effort.”