A nearly $2 billion project to replace a century-old rail bridge in New Jersey that has been a source of delays over many years received a boost Friday from the federal government.
The Federal Transit Administration approved the Portal North Bridge project to advance to the engineering phase, during which it can receive nearly $800 million needed to start construction.
The project, part of the larger Gateway project that includes a new tunnel under the Hudson River into New York, completed its design phase and received environmental approvals several years ago but has languished while New York and New Jersey officials squabbled with the federal government over dividing up the cost.
The new bridge will replace a 110-year-old swing bridge that occasionally becomes stuck after it opens to allow boats to pass under, causing delays along the corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. Nearly 200,000 people and 450 trains cross the bridge each day during normal times.
Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called the announcement “a huge win for New Jersey, the region, and the national economy.” New Jersey Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett called it “a project of national significance.”
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a longtime supporter of the project, said the bridge “has long outlived its usefulness and has become the bane of existence for transit riders mired in delays on the Northeast Corridor.”
The bridge is the farthest along of the projects under the Gateway umbrella but had been sidelined by low ratings from the FTA that disqualified it from federal grant funding, despite the fact New Jersey had committed $600 million through a bond issue backed by the state’s gas tax.
But last summer, FTA officials told members of a House transportation subcommittee that New Jersey Transit, which is overseeing the project, had made progress toward a higher rating. That rating was awarded in February.
Once construction begins, building the bridge would take about four to five years.
“What’s good for Portal is good for the Hudson Tunnel Project as well,” said Steven Cohen, chairman of the development corporation that oversees the Gateway project. “Because together, they are key elements in unlocking the 109-year-old bottleneck that delays the entire Northeast Corridor, and will provide jobs and economic stimulus for the entire region and the nation.”
A study released last year found that passengers traveling between New Jersey and New York had experienced rail delays of five hours or more about 17 times per year in recent years. About three-quarters were attributable to problems with the tunnel and the rest were due to problems with the bridge.