Coast Guard deal to limit boat traffic in peak Portal Bridge hours could become permanent

Coast Guard deal to limit boat traffic in peak Portal Bridge hours could become permanent

By:  Colleen Wilson
The Record


With the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, large boat traffic on the Hackensack River will — hopefully — never disrupt commuter train traffic again during peak hours when passing under the troubled Portal Bridge.

A deal with the Coast Guard that was set to expire in September has been extended until Jan. 8, 2020 to keep ships from passing through during peak hours, 5 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 8 p.m., according to Tuesday's announcement from U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The plan is to make the arrangement indefinite.

“While a permanent rush hour ban will alleviate pressure on the Portal Bridge and restore some reliability to the system, riders will never truly have peace of mind and faith in our rail system until the century-old, oft-malfunctioning span is replaced and a new Hudson rail tunnel built," Menendez said in a statement.

The almost 110-year-old, swing-span Portal Bridge has caused severe delays for trains, especially during the busiest hours, when it malfunctions after opening for big vessels. Workers often have to bang the old bridge into place with a sledgehammer to get it to close properly.

Replacing the Portal Bridge is one of the projects in the Gateway Program, a slew of $30 billion in projects to improve rail movement in the Northeast Corridor.

The current bridge handles about 450 daily trains — including Amtrak and at least five NJ Transit rail lines — traveling between Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station, and beyond.

The proposed replacement would be a two-track, fixed crossing, meaning it would be built higher and wouldn't swing open and risk malfunctioning. It would also allow trains to travel on it at faster speeds; trains currently have to slow to 60 miles per hour.

In addition to the bridge work, the program would rehabilitate the aging and Superstorm Sandy-damaged tunnel used by NJ Transit and Amtrak, and build an additional tunnel to increase the number of trains traveling between New York and New Jersey.

Lawmakers gathered at Secaucus Station in August to draw attention to the overdue work needed on the Portal Bridge, and other Gateway projects, which have yet to be approved for funding by the Federal Transit Administration.