NEWARK, N.J. – While the Trump Administration delays construction of a new Portal North Bridge, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee, today announced that the U.S. Coast Guard will extend and make permanent peak rush hour marine traffic restrictions along the Hackensack River to reduce the risk of a Portal Bridge failure that cripples the entire Northeast Corridor impacting hundreds of thousands of commuters. The Coast Guard, at Sen. Menendez’s request, has extended temporary restrictions it imposed in March through Jan. 8, 2020 while it completes its formal permanent rulemaking process.
Under the current restrictions that will remain in place, all marine traffic on the Hackensack River that requires Amtrak’s Portal Bridge in Kearny to open is 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 joined Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Gov. Phil Murphy, Amtrak, NJ TRANSIT and the Gateway Program Development Corporation in applauding the Coast Guard’s decision while reinforcing the need to complete the Gateway Project, which includes replacing the rickety, 109-year-old Portal Bridge and building a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.
“This is fantastic news for rail commuters and I applaud the Coast Guard for taking this significant step, but this is by no means the end of the line in our efforts to ensure we have a safe, reliable and modern transportation network,” said Sen. Menendez. “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. We are sitting on a transportation ticking time bomb and must move forward on Gateway without further delay.”
“By extending these restrictions, the U.S. Coast Guard is helping to create a short-term solution to our region’s commuter crisis and easing the commutes of hundreds of thousands,” Sen. Booker said. “But make no mistake, this is a temporary fix. New Jersey commuters experience endless frustration as they attempt to navigate our region’s aging infrastructure. With thousands of people and billions of dollars of economic productivity traveling along the Northeast Corridor, the Gateway Project and the replacement of the Portal Bridge is the permanent solution. This administration must provide the federal funding for the Gateway Project so the new Portal Bridge can serve both our maritime and rail sectors simultaneously.”
“This is a common-sense and stop-gap step by the Coast Guard to reduce avoidable delays on the ancient Portal Bridge. It only underscores the need for a full replacement, which is fully funded and has all approvals done and could begin tomorrow—except for the stubborn and cynical blockade by the Trump administration. Sen. Menendez deserves much credit for pushing this effort and I will continue to work with him and all Gateway supporters to move this vital project forward for the good of the whole region and the American economy,” said Sen. Schumer.
“This decision will provide relief and confidence to commuters who cross the Portal Bridge every day,” said Gov. Murphy. “Although this is no silver bullet that eliminates the need for a new Portal Bridge, this new rule is a commonsense determination that balances the economic interests of maritime activity with the daily commutes of rail passengers, and shows the progress that can be made through good faith partnerships between state and local stakeholders and the federal government. I applaud Senator Menendez for consistently fighting on behalf of our region’s commuters. I also thank the Coast Guard for working collaboratively with our congressional delegation to help prevent a catastrophic breakdown of this vital rail link.”
“As owner and operator of the existing Portal Bridge, Amtrak appreciates the leadership of Senator Menendez and the U.S. Coast Guard in seeking to make permanent the rule restricting bridge openings to non-rush hours,” Stephen Gardner, Amtrak Chief Operating & Commercial Officer, said. “The new Portal North Bridge will have much higher clearance over the river, negating the need to open and close, and representing the best and most equitable way to meet the needs of all users of the Hackensack River.”
“I commend Senator Menendez for pushing through these important restrictions, which will no doubt improve commutes for the nearly 300,000 passengers who cross the Portal Bridge between New Jersey and New York City each weekday,” said NJ TRANSIT President and CEO Kevin Corbett. “Last month, we submitted our revised financial plan to the FTA to advance the construction of a modern replacement for this 109-year-old single point of failure on the Northeast Corridor. We eagerly await FTA approval to move this critical, shovel-ready project forward, which is the ultimate solution to the conflict with marine traffic.”
“Restricting the hours of operation at Portal Bridge so that the 109-year-old structure only opens outside of rush hour is a common sense solution that will directly benefit rail riders today,” Jerry Zaro, chairman of Gateway Development Corp., said. “We thank Senator Menendez for his leadership on this issue as well as his steadfast support on all matters relating to Gateway. We also applaud the Coast Guard for taking this step while we continue working toward the real long-term solution—a high-level fixed bridge that does not have to open and close, improving the lives of 200,000 daily riders.”
In March, the Coast Guard had agreed to a six-month rush hour ban following Sen. Menendez’s initial request he made with Sen. Booker and Gov. Murphy, followed by Amtrak, in response to two, separate bridge failures on October 30, 2018 during the morning and evening commutes. The bridge failures led to the delay and cancellation of 164 NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains, affecting more than 155,000 passengers. In 2018, the 109-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.
There have been no such service disruptions because of a Portal Bridge failure since the initial six-month peak rush hour ban went into effect.
Sen. Menendez announced the original restrictions during a news conference at the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus, where he was joined by State Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, and representatives from Amtrak and the Gateway Program Development Corporation.