“I’d like to welcome you all to a historic day for New Jersey Transit, its customers and our region. A day that’s been almost 110 years in the making for many of us,” said NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett as he kicked off the Monday groundbreaking ceremony for the new Portal North Bridge in Kearny.
Gov. Phil Murphy led a bevy of federal, state and local officials and stakeholders commemorating the start of the project to replace the 111-year-old crossing.
Other dignitaries at the Aug. 1 ceremony included U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Bookers, Democrats from N.J.; New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti; Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 Business Manager Greg Lalevee; New Jersey State Building and Construction Trades Council Hudson County Council President Patrick Kelleher; in addition to members of the New Jersey congressional delegation, state lawmakers and others.
“You don’t get a lineup like this unless something great is about to happen,” said Murphy. “And to be sure, something great is about happen. Because today is the day that the construction of the new Portal North Bridge, one of the most critical connection points along the entire Northeast Corridor, begins in earnest.”
Corbett noted that this will not be a 20-year project, either.
“The first track to this new bridge is scheduled to open in 2026,” he said. “And I know that quite a few of my fellow commuters who have that date marked on their calendar.”
As Murphy introduced Buttigieg, he pointed out that this project – after many delays and hurdles – is just the starting line for infrastructure investment and construction centered around the Gateway Program, which has broader goals to build a new set of rail tunnels and double rail capacity between New Jersey and New York.
“Today, we take the next great step of putting shovels into the ground so that this bridge could finally become a reality,” said Murphy. “Finally, the most important infrastructure project in the entire nation is being kicked off.”
Buttigieg said that we are entering into a true infrastructure decade. He pointed out that the current bridge reflects the very finest of President Theodore Roosevelt-era engineering and that it is time for an upgrade.
“Sometimes when this bridge needs to be closed after its opening, workers have to get out their sledgehammers and pound the rails back into alignment,” said Buttigieg. “That’s where we are. It would be frustrating anywhere, but it’s not acceptable at the busiest bridge in the country. This project turns the Portal North Bridge from a choke point to an access point.”
He added that the project modernizes the way that people and goods get to and from this region, which is responsible for 20% of America’s economic product every year.
The new Portal North Bridge will rise 50 feet over the Hackensack River – allowing marine traffic to pass underneath with no rail interruptions – and include a modern two-track, high-level, fixed span bridge to improve service and capacity. It will replace the current 111-year-old swing bridge, which has caused riders countless delays and disruptions.
“Over the years, this critical piece of infrastructure has evolved from a transit marvel into a transit nightmare,” said Menendez. “Simply put, the Portal Bridge is a choke point on the busiest stretch of rail in America. It is a choke point on the future, and we deserve better. Today we turn the page.”
Menendez said the project, which will be funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, New Jersey, New York and Amtrak, is about much more than rail and metal and steel.
“It will spare hundreds of thousands of passengers each day from malfunctions and delays,” said Menendez. “For travelers, it will mean less time stuck on a track and more time with their families and loved ones, and at their destinations. For our region, it will help us double rail capacity between Newark and Manhattan as part of the broader Gateway program. And for our communities, this project is directly tied towards more jobs, higher wages and greater productivity.”
Booker said the groundbreaking is the culmination of an effort that has spanned years.
“If you are a New Jerseyan, there are good days in Jersey. There are bad days in New Jersey,” said Booker. “But this is a great day in New Jersey. If you are a New Jersey commuter, this is a great day. If you are a New Jersey taxpayer, dear god, all the money we give to the federal government. It’s about time we see more of it coming back.”
Officials also stressed that the project will also be a source of good-paying union jobs.
“The Hudson County Building & Construction Trades Affiliates are excited for this project,” said Kelleher. “Not only is this great for our state, but for our skilled Union Workers to secure steady work and income at this time of our state of economy.”
“The ripple effect of a job like this is profound. The workers involved in this project are grabbing their part of the American Dream all because of what these public officials have brought here today,” said Lalavee. “On behalf of operating engineers, my fellow craft workers, and all the workers associated with this – we’re happy to get to work and we’re ready to get to work. That’s why we greet today with such enthusiasm.”
“Construction of a new bridge will not only create approximately 15,000 jobs and add billions of dollars to our local economy but, most importantly, it will provide safe, reliable service for all Northeast Corridor commuters between Washington, D.C., and Boston for generations to come,” said Corbett.
“I hope that this bridge will not only bring people to work and loved ones to where they need to be but brings renewed confidence in our ability to get things done together,” said Buttigieg.
“The esteemed elected officials, transportation executives, and union members gathered here today to celebrate a national milestone are evidence of what we can achieve when we band together as Americans in pursuit of a common purpose,” said Murphy.
“The new Portal North Bridge symbolizes our lasting legacy and our commitment to the welfare and prosperity of all New Jerseyans,” Murphy added.