NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, along with Congressmen Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09), Albio Sires (N.J.-08), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (N.J.-10) and Tom Malinowski (N.J.-07) today announced over $91.5 million in funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to advance replacement of the Portal Bridge and make other upgrades to improve service along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC).
Long considered the linchpin of the entire NEC connecting Boston to Washington, D.C., the 110-year-old Portal Bridge carries an average 450 trains and 200,000 passengers each day. The antiquated, swing-style span over the Hackensack River in Kearny is notorious for breaking down and getting stuck in the open position, stranding commuters and grinding Amtrak and NJ Transit service to a halt. Building a new, higher, fixed Portal North Bridge is a key component of the broader Gateway Program that also includes construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan, among other improvements.
“New Jersey’s rail infrastructure is vital to the economic health of not only our state, but our region,” Sen. Booker said. “The reality is this critical infrastructure is crumbling beneath our feet, with the century-old Portal Bridge serving as a bottleneck for the entire Northeast Corridor. This federal infrastructure investment will help provide much-needed relief to New Jersey commuters who depend on reliable, safe rail transit. But our work is far from over. We must remain focused on long-term solutions to replace our obsolete infrastructure by moving projects like Gateway forward in order to help strengthen our economic growth, boost job creation, and ensure commuter safety.”
“The oft-malfunctioning Portal Bridge has become the bane of existence for commuters. It’s long outlived its usefulness, and must be replaced without further delay,” said Sen. Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee. “This federal funding keeps Gateway moving forward and makes needed upgrades along the busy Northeast Corridor to provide commuters a safer, more reliable and more resilient transit system. I am thrilled to lead a congressional delegation that continues to deliver for the people of New Jersey, despite the challenges and roadblocks put up in Washington. I will not stop fighting for the critical resources we need to complete Gateway and build a 21st century transportation system that ensures New Jersey’s economic vitality for generations to come.”
“The pandemic has devastated New Jerseyans’ lifeblood transit systems,” said Rep. Pascrell, a longtime champion of regional transit and former member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “The Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River has been in decay for ages and this crisis has only worsened the ability to provide any upkeep. If the bridge is not reconstructed soon, one of the most important train arteries on the eastern seaboard will be crippled. This major award will help our state weather this crisis. It will help us begin rebuilding our infrastructure to ensure commuters will be able to get around when this nightmare is over.”
“These grants awards are well deserved, much needed, and long overdue. The over-$55 million award to the Portal North Bridge Project will help upgrade this century-old infrastructure is critical to the 200,000 daily passengers that rely on it but currently has to be sometimes set into place by two workmen with sledgehammers. The over-$36 million award to New Jersey Transit will help it reconstruct the electrical facility in Kearny that powers Northeast Corridor main line services in northern New Jersey into Penn Station New York,” said Rep. Sires, who represents Kearny and sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
“I am delighted to hear that the Department of Transportation will award $91.5 million in grants to the Portal North Bridge project and transportation upgrades for the Northeast Corridor,” said Rep. Payne, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “The current bridge and tracks were built 110 years ago and need to be replaced immediately to handle the thousands of commuters who use them daily. This is great news for New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, and all the residents of northern New Jersey.”
“Relentless advocacy and pressure from Congress has convinced the administration that the Portal North Bridge is necessary for a functioning Northeast Corridor, and a functioning Northeast Corridor is necessary for the United States to prosper," said Rep. Malinowski, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. "I am proud of the work my office has done alongside the New Jersey delegation to secure these funds, and will keep up the fight until Portal North is built and my constituents have the 21st century transit system they deserve."
The FRA has awarded Amtrak $55,100,000 towards the federal cost share for the Portal North Bridge Project. The new span will be built with 50-foot clearance above the Hackensack River, negating the need to open for passing marine traffic. This will allow trains to run at faster speeds and substantially reduce delays along the NEC due to openings for waterway traffic and ensuing mechanical failures.
NJ Transit has been awarded $36,408,410 to reconstruct electrical substation 41 in Kearny that supplies power to a stretch of the NEC and existing Hudson rail tunnels leading into New York Penn Station. It suffered considerable damage during Superstorm Sandy and remains vulnerable to floods. The new, more resilient substation will allow for faster, more dependable train service and, when connected to NJ Transit’s independent power generation system, it will provide reliable power for the NEC in event of regional blackouts, severe weather, or cyber-attack. The project includes building the substation on a larger, higher platform—elevation 15 feet—and rerouting or redirecting up to four traction power transmission circuits that feed the substation. The Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) assisted with the proposal by providing the cost benefit analysis required to secure the federal funding.
“A safe, reliable transportation network is critically important to the livelihoods of thousands of New Jersey commuters and the continued economic vitality of our region,” said Governor Murphy. “This funding will allow us to upgrade the obsolete infrastructure of the current Portal Bridge and overhaul the Northeast Corridor with modern components that match our region’s productivity. I commend New Jersey’s congressional delegation for their shared commitment to deliver 21st century transportation to New Jerseyans who depend upon it.”
"We are extremely grateful for these two grant awards, which are critical to the advancement of the Portal North Bridge project and the overall reliability of the NEC. As agency for the replacement of Portal North Bridge, along with my role as Co-Chair of the Northeast Corridor Commission with FRA Administrator Ron Batory, there is no higher priority at NJ TRANSIT than getting shovels in the ground to restore reliability for the 450 NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains a day that cross the Portal Bridge," said NJ TRANSIT President & CEO Kevin Corbett. “We thank the USDOT, our partners at the FTA and FRA, and the NJ Congressional Delegation for their continued support of these critical projects."
The Northeast Corridor generates one-fifth of the nation’s economy, and the NEC Commission estimates that a disruption of the NEC from Boston to Washington, D.C. would cost the country $100 million a day in lost production and economic activity. In response to a question from Sen. Menendez during a Feb. 12 Senate Banking Committee hearing, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified that any sustained closing of the NEC due to a failure of either the Portal Bridge or Hudson River rail tunnels would put the economy at significant risk.
In 2015, Sens. Menendez and Booker and Reps. Pascrell and Sires helped secure a $16 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to help fund $20 million in preliminary construction work on the Portal North Bridge, which broke ground in the fall of 2017.