Jersey commuters had the ‘final’ moment they had been waiting for years on Monday, when US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Governor Phil Murphy and other officials attended the second groundbreaking ceremony for mark the start of work to replace the 112 year old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in Kearny.
Yes, this is the second ceremony held at the grumpy swing bridge on the busy Northeast Corridor line which is infamous for refusing to close completely until wok crews ‘persuaded’ it with masses. But it’s the one that matters in the minds of rail commuters because it means construction begins.
Unlike the 2017 ceremony organized by the ex-governor. Chris Christie, who commemorated the start of $20 million in groundwork, Monday’s ceremony marked the start of construction of a new bridge. And that came with a promise from the state’s top transportation official to complete the bridge project on time and on budget.
There were technically three consecutive dedication ceremonies to accommodate most of the state’s congressional delegation and a host of officials and dignitaries, with Buttigieg standing center stage with Murphy, brandishing gold-painted spades and throwing dirt from a ceremonial dirt heap.
Real construction workers were nearby with massive machinery to build the bridge, which is expected to create some 15,000 jobs, according to NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin S. Corbett.
Of all the remarks made during the ceremony, it is perhaps the promise made by State Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti that matters most to commuters and train travelers – to complete the new bridge on time and on budget.
“My job is to make that commitment…to thank you for your continued commitment with the promise of this bridge’s success…to cut the ribbon in 2026,” she said. “We will deliver Portal North on time and, I’ve told Kevin before, on budget.”
The new span will be built next to the old bridge. According to a preliminary schedule, the first track should be open in November 2025. The last track could be commissioned in July 2026, with full completion expected in 2027.
“Portal Bridge is 112 years old, that’s a long time in any job. In 2027 it will be demolished and that day cannot come soon enough,” Murphy said.
The bridge project has a cost of approximately $1.8 billion, however, the contract provides an additional 5% for contingencies to cover unscheduled work.
A notice of suit was issued in April on a $1.559 billion construction contract to build the new span, awarded by NJ Transit’s board of directors in October 2021. The new bridge will not be a movable bridge, but will be 50 feet above the Hackensack River and allow marine traffic to pass below without having to open and interrupt rail traffic.
The former two-lane bridge is the nation’s busiest railroad bridge and a choke point on the Northeast Corridor line, used by approximately 450 Amtrak and NJ Transit trains each day.
Great credit was given to the efforts of the tag team by the state’s congressional delegation to keep the Portal Bridge Project alive during the Trump administration.
Murphy, referring to the infamous 1927 New York Yankees roster, honored the state’s “murderous row of congressional delegation,” raging U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, DN.J., and Cory Booker, DN.J., to members of Congress who fought to keep funding in the federal budget for Portal Bridge.
“The congressional delegation has never been shy about reminding me of the importance of this project … now it’s happening,” Buttigieg said. “This project is not just for residents of New York and New Jersey, but for people across the country.”
Booker, delivering a rousing speech, turned to football metaphors to describe the delegation’s attitude, ‘blocking, tackling, battling and squeezing…little drops of money to keep this project going. “until the draft is over the goal line.
But, looking ahead to the Gateway Tunnel project and checking the names of other rail projects around the world, Booker called for the United States to once again become the world’s infrastructure leader.
“I’m so frustrated that other countries are Americanizing us,” Booker said. “We have defined infrastructure on the planet for three generations. We led in all areas. But now we’ve fallen behind. France is building a 300mph high-speed train, China is building thousands of miles of high-speed rail, and the fastest corridor (in the US) is running half an hour slower than it was in the 1960s.”
“That should annoy us, if we’re patriots…. (The Portal Bridge is) a down payment on where we should go.”
Booker’s comments, like those of others, referred to the region generating 20% of the country’s gross domestic product and the importance of its economic vitality to the United States.
“The president is known to be a big supporter of passenger rail and a big supporter of good-paying jobs. That’s what you see here,” Buttigieg said. The federal grant provides $766 million for the project, plus $97 million from Amtrak.
The ceremony also marks the first project launched under the wider Gateway program which was introduced in 2011 after Christie canceled the ARC tunnel project in October 2010 due to concerns over cost overruns.
The flagship Gateway project awaiting federal funding is the $12.3 billion Gateway Tunnel which includes the construction of two new tunnels under the Hudson River and the rehabilitation of existing 111-year-old tunnels, which have been damaged by water. brackish from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. .
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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].