Shipping industry leaders are underwhelmed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s decision on a general plan for altering the Bayonne Bridge to allow larger ships to pass underneath.
“We were hoping for more,” said Ed Kelly, president of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey. He credited the port authority for moving a step closer to construction, but he said the absence of a construction schedule signals a lack of urgency.
“They’ve taken almost a year just to decide on the concept. They should be farther down the pike,” Kelly said. “Why aren’t they ready to move forward with requests for proposals for engineering design, environmental approvals and financing? If the port authority has a plan, they need to start talking about it.”
|The port authority said Dec. 29 its preferred engineering solution would be to raise the bridge’s roadway to increase the current 151-foot vertical clearance to 215 feet. The “raise the roadway” solution was chosen over alternatives that included replacing the bridge with a tunnel or converting the span to a drawbridge.
The port authority promised to expedite the project but offered no completion target. “We have not yet designed the bridge,” spokesman Steve Coleman said. “We have only decided on the concept of raising the roadway.”
Because engineering of the ambitious project has not started and environmental approvals still must be secured, the bridge reconstruction won’t be completed in time for the scheduled 2014 opening of new Panama Canal locks that will allow transits by larger ships.
Coleman said the 2014 deadline is not necessarily pressing because carriers are unlikely to immediately deploy ships with capacity of more than 10,000 20-foot-equivalent units to East Coast routes.
Kelly said he was “flabbergasted” by that. He said the bridge’s height restrictions for ships already threaten the port’s competitiveness for intermodal cargo that can be served by other ports such as Norfolk, which has a 50-foot-deep channel and no bridge impediments.
Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, urged the port authority to put the bridge’s design and construction on a fast track for completion. “We feel it is imperative that the region’s policymakers understand that the Bayonne Bridge will not ‘become a problem’ in 2015. It is a problem now,” he said.
Carriers and ship pilots say the bridge has long been an impediment to ships. Nine years ago, a vessel had to go to Freeport, Bahamas, to have four feet chopped off the funnel so it could clear the bridge. Last year, the NYK Nebula was diverted to Norfolk to take on additional containers after attempts to make the ship heavier failed, leaving it too high in the water to pass under the bridge.
A recent DVB Bank report said the introduction of larger ships in the Asia-Europe trade is pushing more 8,000-TEU-plus vessels into U.S. services. But the report said it’s estimated the Bayonne Bridge is too low to accommodate more than 90 percent of ships with capacities of 8,000 to 10,000 TEUs and about 60 percent of 6,000- to 8,000-TEU ships.
Depending on a vessel’s design, the bridge can be a problem for much smaller ships. Carriers regularly delay arrivals or departures of vessels as small as 4,500 TEUs in order to pass under the bridge at low tide.
“It’s something we deal with every day,” said Andrew McGovern, president of the New Jersey Sandy Hook Pilots Association. “We handle 8,000-TEU ships now, but it’s a squeeze” that requires working around tides and adding ballast.
Ship antennas scrape the underside of the bridge “probably a couple of times a month,” McGovern said. Some carriers have retrofitted their antennas so they can be folded down to pass under the span.
McGovern said the Bayonne Bridge has received more attention with the introduction of larger container ships, but it has been recognized as a problem since the late 1970s, when ramps on a new generation of large roll-on, roll-off ships had to be lowered to fit under the bridge.
What’s unclear, he said, is how much business the bridge has already cost the port “and how much more adapting the lines are going to do before they just say . . . we’re going to go somewhere else.”
Contact Joseph Bonney at email@example.com.