Menendez Announces New Restrictions on Hackensack River to Ease Stress on Portal Bridge, Pain for Commuters

Menendez Announces New Restrictions on Hackensack River to Ease Stress on Portal Bridge, Pain for Commuters

SECAUCUS, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee, today announced that the U.S. Coast Guard has granted his proposal for marine traffic restrictions on the Hackensack River to mitigate the risk of a Portal Bridge failure that cripples the entire Northeast Corridor impacting hundreds of thousands of commuters. 

Under the Coast Guard order, which went into effect yesterday at 12:01 a.m., all marine traffic on the Hackensack River that requires Amtrak’s Portal Bridge in Kearny to open has been halted between 5:00-10:00 a.m. and 3:00-8:00 p.m., with only limited exceptions due to tidal restrictions and with a minimum two hours’ notice.

Sen. Menendez made the request with Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Phil Murphy, followed by Amtrak, after two, separate bridge failures on October 30, 2018 during the morning and evening commutes that forced the delay and cancellation of 164 NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains, affecting more than 155,000 passengers.  Just last year alone, the 108-year-old rail span, which is forced to open to marine traffic on the Hackensack River, failed to properly close five separate times causing major disruptions.


“Taking this significant step will help alleviate pressure on the Portal Bridge, restore some reliability to the system, and—most importantly—give riders some peace of mind,” said Sen. Menendez.  “Every time the Portal Bridge fails, the disruptions spread across our transportation system faster than the plague. And it’s that much worse when the Portal Bridge fails during peak hours, when the number of people traveling the Northeast Corridor is at its highest. This is a win for commuters as we continue work towards our ultimate goal—the replacement of the Portal Bridge and completion of the Gateway Project.”

“New Jersey commuters are regularly subjected to train delays because they travel across the 108-year-old Portal Bridge every day,” said Sen. Booker. “I’m pleased the Coast Guard has taken steps to reduce marine traffic and in turn, reduce chances for further delay.  However, we know that commuters will not get the relief they deserve until this bridge is replaced - which is why I’m so grateful for Senator Menendez’s partnership in fighting for the critical Gateway Program.”

“The U.S. Coast Guard’s decision to further limit bridge openings during peak traffic hours will go a long way toward reducing malfunctions and providing New Jersey commuters with faster and more reliable service,” said Gov. Murphy. “We thank the Coast Guard for their cooperation as partners, and we continue to call on the Trump Administration to step up and provide the Federal funding we need to build the Gateway project now.”

The Coast Guard restriction on marine traffic during peak rush hours has a limited exception due to tidal restrictions.  It remains in effect for six months and can be extended. 

Sen. Menendez made the announcement at the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus with State Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and representatives from Amtrak and the Gateway Program Development Corporation.  Each reiterated the need to replace the Portal Bridge and complete the Gateway Project, which also includes new Hudson River rail tunnels.

“We appreciate the assistance of Senators Menendez and Booker and Governor Murphy in raising awareness of this issue and supporting our efforts with the Coast Guard,” Stephen Gardner, Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President, said.  “Amtrak is mindful of the need to balance rail traffic priority while preserving access to the navigable waters of the United States, which can be achieved with a new, higher-over-the-river fixed bridge that does not open and close.  Portal North Bridge is the right solution to benefit waterway users and Northeast Corridor customers alike.”

“This agreement provides tens of thousands of customers with immediate relief from painful delays resulting from ill-timed failures of the Portal Bridge,” said NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Kevin Corbett.  “I thank Senator Menendez and Governor Murphy for their leadership on this issue.  We continue to await federal funding for a new high-level Portal Bridge which will end this century old problem once and for all.”

“We thank Senator Menendez, Senator Booker, Governor Murphy, Amtrak and our partners on both sides of the river for their incredible efforts in support of the Gateway Program. GDC and all our partners are doing everything we can right now both to move Gateway forward and to improve the daily commute and quality of life for 200,000 riders. Keeping this century old swing bridge closed and locked more reliably during the rush hours is an important part of meeting this commitment,” Jerry Zaro, Chairman and N.J. Trustee, Gateway Program Development Corporation said.  “But there should be no mistake that the long-term solution is a new, 21st Century Portal North Bridge that no longer needs to open at all, is more reliable, resilient and keeps more people moving.  Early work has started on Portal North Bridge, now it’s time for major construction to start on a newer, better bridge for the future.”

A Portal Bridge malfunction at 4:30 a.m. on March 16, 2018 closed the Northeast Corridor for hours, cancelling 112 Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT trains, delaying another 34, and directly affecting 66,000 passengers.

But the impacts on service and people were significantly less after two other Portal Bridge failures last year during off-peak times.  On January 11, 2018, the incident occurred mid-morning, leading to 30 cancelled and 69 delayed NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains, affecting 30,000 passengers.  A February 3, 2018 failure happened on a Saturday afternoon when only three Amtrak and eight NJ TRANSIT trains experienced delays.