Federal officials are providing a $55 million infusion of federal funds to help replace the Portal North Bridge, the bane of NJ Transit commuters and Amtrak riders.
The Federal Railroad Administration grant to Amtrak announced Tuesday represents only part of the U.S. share of the $1.5 billion replacement of the 110-year-old span over the Hackensack River in Kearny. The Federal Transit Administration raised the rating on the bridge in February to medium-high, making it eligible for another pot of federal funds.
The state will contribute $600 million for the project.
“The oft-malfunctioning Portal Bridge has become the bane of existence for commuters," said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate transit subcommittee. "It’s long outlived its usefulness, and must be replaced without further delay.”
More than 450 trains a day carrying almost 200,000 passengers cross the current bridge every weekday in normal times. But train traffic comes to a halt when the bridge gets stuck in the open position after allowing boats to pass underneath. The new span will have a high clearance, making it no longer necessary to open for marine traffic.
In October 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard agreed to stop Portal Bridge openings during prime commuting hours to reduce the chance of it getting stuck.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in 2015 awarded a $16 million grant under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program, to relocate utilities and build a staging area for construction materials in preparation for the Portal Bridge replacement.
Separately, the FRA on Tuesday awarded $36.4 million to NJ Transit to rebuild an electrical power substation in Kearny, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. The substation powers part of the Northeast Corridor and the existing Hudson tunnels.
Once it is hooked up to NJ Transit’s independent power generation system, the new substation will be able to provide power to the tracks even during blackouts, storms or cyberattacks.
“A safe, reliable transportation network is critically important to the livelihoods of thousands of New Jersey commuters and the continued economic vitality of our region,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “This funding will allow us to upgrade the obsolete infrastructure of the current Portal Bridge and overhaul the Northeast Corridor with modern components that match our region’s productivity."
State officials still are waiting for federal funding for the new train tunnels under the Hudson River, which along with the Portal Bridge is part of the Gateway Project. The tunnels have been rated too low by the Federal Transit Administration to qualify for assistance from Washington.
“Our work is far from over,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who once quipped that he would name the Gateway tubes the “Trump Tunnel” if the president released funding.
"We must remain focused on long-term solutions to replace our obsolete infrastructure by moving projects like Gateway forward in order to help strengthen our economic growth, boost job creation, and ensure commuter safety.”