New Jersey elected officials broke ground on a $1.5 billion bridge replacement they hope will spur completion of a long-stalled dual-track rail tunnel connecting to Manhattan in the midst of federal funding uncertainty.
Friday's ceremony to launch the new Portal North Bridge over the Hackensack River was touted by Gov. Chris Christie as the launching pad for the estimated $30 billion total Gateway project aimed at enhancing transit access under the Hudson River.
Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with congressional leaders from New Jersey and New York, met with President Trump last month in an effort to secure half of the funding needed for a new tunnel and rehabbing an existing 107-year old tunnel linked to Penn Station. The 110-year old two-track Portal swing bridge in Kearny and Secaucus has been known for malfunctions that cause delays to both New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains, according to Christie.
“I’ve explained to both President Obama and now President Trump that the Gateway Tunnel without the Portal Bridge is a useless exercise,” said Christie in remarks Friday. “I am absolutely confident the president will partner with us to make sure this entire project is done.”
A 2015 funding agreement spearheaded under the Obama administration has been in limbo since Trump’s proposed budget stripped out key federal funding sources for the project. The president’s 2018 fiscal year budget plan outlined in April would end a $2.3 billion per year New Starts program that was slated to finance half of the Gateway project.
New York and New Jersey have agreed to split the remaining costs with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey tapped to lead financing efforts.
“New Jerseyans should be very happy today, because now we have visible signs of progress and momentum,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told reporters at Friday’s groundbreaking. “The only thing lacking right now is the president of the U.S. honoring the commitments the federal government made to the state of New Jersey under President Obama.”
Plans call for two new fixed bridges to be erected 53 feet above mean high water at more than double the height of the current structure, which transit officials say will enable higher speeds and increased train capacity. Early construction work funding for the Portal Bridge replacement was provided by NJ TRANSIT and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Work on the Port South Bridge is slated to begin at a later undetermined date.