When people gather to talk about the Port of New York and New Jersey, conversation almost inevitably turns to the port authority-owned Bayonne Bridge.
The span's 151-foot vertical clearance is too low to allow the new generation of container ships to take full advantage of what will be 50-foot-deep channels to Port Newark/Elizabeth by 2012 and to New York Container Terminal on Staten Island by 2014.
Port Director Rick Larrabee, told an industry audience Thursday night that the agency is determined to solve the bridge problem, but that such a huge fiscal and policy decision deserves careful examination.
The port authority has commissioned a $10 million study of alternatives. These range from spendng $2 billion to $3 billion or more on a new bridge or tunnel to an intriguing idea to redesign the existing bridge into a "lift" span that would raise the roadway to provide ships with more headroom.
The feasibility of the "lift" alternative remains undetermined, but because it might be done within three years at one-tenth the cost of a bridge replacement Larrabee said the idea will receive close examination in the current study.
"During the next 12 months, we'll run that one to ground," he said.
With the Panama Canal's widening only five or six years away, the industry is getting antsy. There's even some talk about trying to persuade the port authority to demolish the bridge and divert Bayonne-Staten Island traffic to other bridges.
An economic argument could be made for demolition -- traffic on the existing span totals only 22,000 vehicles a day. But don't look for it to happen. Demolishing a perfectly sound bridge, even to clear a critical navigation impediment, would be tough to sell politically.
Contact Joseph Bonney at email@example.com.