Pedestrians stopping at the top of the Bayonne Bridge walkway can see for miles. Soon, thanks to action taken by President Barack Obama and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, ports along the shores of Newark Bay will be seeing an increase in cargo.
The president and the Port Authority announced last week that the project slated to be done in 2015 has been fast-tracked to allow the bridge to be ready for larger and higher cargo ships coming from China and other Pacific ports through a widened Panama Canal.
“I am very concerned about the bridge being raised on time,” said Rep. Albio Sires, who attended a conference in Central America last year and reviewed the widening project at the Panama Canal that would allow new larger cargo ships to access the Atlantic Ocean and ports along the East Coast.
Fortunately, for ports along Newark Bay, the Panama Canal widening project was delayed by a year, and combined with a fast track announcement made by the White House and moves by the Port Authority, the Bayonne Bridge may indeed be ready. The bridge needs to be raised from its current 151-foot clearance to about 215 feet.
“Raising the roadway on the Bayonne Bridge paves the way to a brighter, competitive economic future for New Jersey and the region,” said Gov. Christopher Christie. “Completing this important project ahead of schedule will ensure that our ports remain a vital link to the global economy and the destination of choice for international shippers and cargo.”
Some thought bridge would not be ready
Two years ago, the Port Authority committed $1 billion to the project, which according to Sires would help maintain up to 260,000 jobs in the region that are connected in some way to port operations.
On July 18, the White House announced a fast tracking of the project that would cut months from the previously expected completion of the project, part of Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative – which is designed to reduce red tape that slows down completion of projects such as these.
The Port Authority applied for the fast tracking last April, after which both U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez lobbied heavily to get the fast track distinction.
Nearly at the same time, the Port Authority announced that it will finish the deck removal portion of the Raise the Roadway project at the Bayonne Bridge six months ahead of schedule, ensuring completion of this important project in advance of commercial operations at the widened Panama Canal. The deck removal will provide critical navigational clearance for larger post-Panamax ships to access port terminals in New York and New Jersey when the Panama Canal opens.
Work will commence in mid-2013 when crews begin to build a new elevated roadway 64 feet above the existing deck. Once completed, the Bayonne Bridge roadway will be 215 feet above the Kill Van Kull waterway, allowing larger cargo ships to easily pass beneath the structure. The Port Authority is expediting the work to coincide with when the widening of the Panama Canal is completed and fully operational. The Port Authority anticipates deck removal to be completed by fall 2015. The original project timeline called for completion of deck removal in mid-2016.
The Panama Canal Authority recently announced that construction delays will push completion of the Canal project into 2015. In an interview on June 29 with the Panamanian television station Telemetro, Alberto Alemán Zubieta, the administrator of the Panama Canal, noted that following completion of construction there would be up to eight months of testing and trials before the Canal will be fully operational.
“The Port of New York and New Jersey is our region’s economic engine. We will finish this project six months ahead of schedule,” said Port Authority Chairman David Samson.
Traffic will not be stopped during construction. Instead, the bridge will have one lane in each direction instead of two, officials said.
“Raising the roadway on the Bayonne Bridge paves the way to a brighter, competitive economic future for New Jersey and the region.” – Governor Christopher Christie
Cargo volume part of need for project
The Bayonne Bridge project is extremely critical to maintain the Port of New York and New Jersey as the East Coast’s leading destination for international shippers. Currently, the port handles 30 percent of all goods shipped to the East Coast, and in 2011 it handled more cargo containers than its closest competitors – Savannah, Norfolk, and Baltimore – combined.
The Port Authority has invested more than $2 billion over the past 10 years to build new port infrastructure, resulting in the largest rail capacity of any East Coast port. To attract international shippers, the Port of New York and New Jersey has the most rail capacity of any East cCoast port. It also has the most terminal capacity and berth capacity, the largest labor force, and the largest trucking fleet on the East Coast. In addition, the port has more shipping services to more destinations than any port on the East Coast, and goods shipped to the port can reach more than 100 million customers in 24 hours, a feat no other port can match.
In 2011, the Port of New York and New Jersey set an all-time record for cargo volume, surpassing the previous record set in 2007 before the start of the global economic downturn.
However, other East Coast ports are continuing the fierce competition for port business, making the Bayonne Bridge project even more critical to maintaining the Port of New York and New Jersey’s competitive edge. Major investments are being made by other East Coast ports to attract business, including a $450 million investment by the Port of Miami to build a new tunnel connecting the port to the roadway network, and a $300 million investment by the South Carolina State Ports Authority to pay for channel deepening in the Port of Charleston.
The Bayonne Bridge construction project is expected to create more than 6,300 jobs, $380 million in wages, and $1.6 billion in economic activity.
The United States Coast Guard, which is the lead federal agency of the Raise the Roadway project, continues to expedite the environmental review process. In addition, both the State Historic Preservation Offices in New York and New Jersey have conducted detailed and extensive reviews of architectural, archaeological and historical elements, and developed comprehensive recommendations to preserve and protect the Bayonne Bridge.
Some environmental concerns have been raised about the impact of increased cargo traffic into Port Newark and Elizabeth, especially truck traffic through poorer neighborhoods in Essex and Union Counties. But along with the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, local officials anticipate significant changes to port operations similar to those being made at the Global Terminals in Bayonne and Jersey City where cargo containers will be loaded onto trains rather than trucks, actually reducing pollution in the region.