The Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey, seeking to settle a problem critical to the port’s future, said Wednesday it will propose to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge rather than replace the bridge in its entirety to accommodate larger container ships.
What the port authority called its “raise the roadway” solution will involve an ambitious, multi-year overhaul of existing roads leading onto the bridge and raising the span’s main roadway some 64 feet.
But the project wouldn’t be as disruptive or expensive as tearing down the span, an important commuter route connecting Bayonne, N.J., to Staten Island, N.Y.
With only 151-feet of clearance at the Kill van Kull channel, the bridge is too low for the larger ships expected to serve port terminals beyond the span once the newly enlarged Panama Canal opens in 2014. The new project, the port authority said, would raise the clearance to 215 feet. (For a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers analysis of the bridge's air draft, click here.)
“"We have found what we believe is a cost-effective, workable solution to fixing the Bayonne Bridge, which will ensure that we keep the economic activity and good jobs the port business provides for decades to come,” said Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the port authority.
The port authority did not estimate what the project would cost, or say when it would be completed, but the authority in September set aside $1 billion toward a solution.
The work is still at an early stage. The authority said in a statement that it still must complete engineering and design work on the proposed solution and will look to “initiate and expedite the environmental regulatory process.”
That process could take years under normal circumstances, but trade and business development experts say the region faces a critical deadline with the opening of an expanded Panama Canal. Ports up and down the East Coast see the potential for larger ships from Asia through the Panama Canal as a unique opportunity to gain new cargo and entrench themselves as gateways for the larger business.
The intertwined infrastructure and multi-state jurisdiction around the New York-New Jersey has made a solution difficult to come by, however.
”Modernizing the Bayonne Bridge is essential to maintaining port access for the next generation of transportation and shipping vessels and crucial to the economic future of New Jersey and the region,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said. “International trade is a key piece of our economic development strategy.”
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, concerned that razing the bridge for a new structure would damage connections for commuters for too long, called the plan “the least disruptive, least expensive and quickest to execute option.”