The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last week recommended raising the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge by 64 feet to provide more clearance for ships. Currently, the bridge allows for 151 feet of a navigational clearance that the authority said would pose a problem for larger ships trying to access ports after the Panama Canal expands in 2014.

Completed in 1931, the steel arched bridge connects Staten Island, N.Y., and Bayonne, N.J., and handles more than seven million vehicles a year.

"The Raise the Roadway plan provides a fiscally appropriate and environmentally sound solution," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a release. "Modernizing the Bayonne Bridge is essential to maintaining port access for the next generation of transportation and shipping vessels, and is crucial to the economic future of New Jersey and the region."

Christie said that international trade was key to the state's economic development strategy and staying competitive in the global marketplace.

After reviewing numerous alternatives, including replacing the bridge, the authority said the Raise the Roadway plan was the most cost-effective solution.

In October, the Port Authority board authorized up to $1 billion of capital funds to help finance a plan for the Bayonne Bridge. The recommended plan includes reconstructing existing approaches, ramps, and the main span roadway.

The plan won't go to the board for approval until design and engineering work have determined cost and schedule, said authority spokesman Steve Coleman. It would also need to receive federal environmental approvals, he said.

The authority owns six container terminals in New York and New Jersey, including four that ships reach by passing under the Bayonne Bridge. The port handled 4.6 million of loaded and unloaded 20-foot equivalent units of cargo valued at more than $146 billion in 2009, according to a news release.

The port generates $36.1 billion in annual business income and $5 billion in local, state, and federal taxes, the authority said.

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