The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey committed up to $1 billion in capital planning funds to help solve the port's problem with the Bayonne Bridge, whose roadway is too low for clearance by the largest container ships.
It's the biggest financial commitment yet to solve what is widely viewed as the biggest impediment to continued growth of the East Coast's busiest port.
The bridge linking Bayonne, N.J., with Staten Island, N.Y., has an under-roadway clearance of only 151 feet - too low for the newest generation of large container ships.
The problem will become especially critical when the Panama Canal completes new locks in 2014 that will allow passage of larger ships.
The port authority last summer commissioned a planning analysis at a cost of $10 million to recommend the best way to solve the bridge clearance problem. The analysis is scheduled to provide a ranking of alternatives by year end, and the port authority says it plans to expedite the next steps.
Options include modifying the existing bridge by jacking up the current 151-foot high road deck, creating a lift bridge mechanism at the center of the span, or building a new taller bridge or a tunnel below the river. A new bridge or tunnel would cost upwards of $2 billion and could not be completed in time for the opening of the new canal locks.
In June, the port board agreed to retain nationally known consulting teams to provide technical information on environmental and regulatory issues related to the bridge project. The consultant teams are developing ways to expedite the environmental review process, including the National Environmental Policy Act requirements, and other regulations.
Port officials said the board's authorization of funds Tuesday was a major step toward solving the bridge problem. "Today's financial commitment will ensure that the seaport remains the leading destination for shippers on the East Coast," said Anthony R. Coscia, port authority chairman.
Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, said the port authority's funding authorization was "great news for the Port of New York and New Jersey and the port's customers."
He said the NYSA "will continue to work with the port authority in partnership to determine what the ultimate solution will be - but the fact that funding will be in place to implement the desired result is an enormous step in the right direction. This ensures the future of this world-class port for many decades to come."
-- Contact Joseph Bonney at email@example.com.