Support is growing for replacement of the Bayonne Bridge, which spans the main channel into the New York-New Jersey container terminals and is too low for many ships to pass through.
In recent weeks, meetings between private sector harbor representatives and officials from the states, members of Congress and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have drawn attention to the shortcomings of the 1930s-era steel arch bridge that spans the Kill Van Kull. Up to $1 billion may be needed to replace the bridge, which connects Bayonne, N.J. and Staten Island, N.Y., and it will require political will and consensus among government leaders to obtain it.
"We have been very successful in getting the attention of the appropriate agencies to fix this issue, including support from the governor of New Jersey and members of our Congressional delegation on both sides of the river," said Frank M. McDonough, president of the New York Shipping Association.
The port authority, which once was dismissive of the need to replace the bridge, now embraces the concept that the 151-154 foot height from the water, depending on tide, is too low for some ships that call the port currently and especially the larger container ships expected to begin arriving after the scheduled expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014. "We don't disagree with the premise that it is too low for future larger vessels that will want to transit the bridge," Port Authority port director Rick Larrabee said in a recent interview with the Journal of Commerce.
Recent incidents illustrate that the problem is currently affecting the port. On March 8 the MV Nebula, an NYK ship, had to divert to Norfolk to load additional containers so it would be deep enough to pass under the bridge. The ship initially arrived at New York and took on bunkers at Staten Island in an attempt to weigh it down enough to pass underneath. However, if it had discharged its containers at the terminal, it would then have been too light to pass under on the outbound leg.
The light load of many ships due to the economy, in fact, is becoming a more frequent issue in determining when ships can make it under the bridge. "Many of them are having issues, because they are not coming in loaded any more, so it's actually become more of a problem with the economy rather than less," said Andy McGovern, New York president of the Sandy Hook Pilots. He said ships frequently slow down at sea in order to time their passage under the bridge to low tide. He said one carrier recently calculated that a new class of ships would have only a two-hour window out of 24 hours in the day to clear the bridge, determining that it would be all but impossible to bring those ships to the port.
The Port Authority has commissioned a study by the Army Corps of Engineers that will be completed this summer, at which point a final decision on what to do will be made.
Contact Peter Tirschwell at email@example.com .