NJ Transit, EDA approve $600M in bonds for new Portal Bridge

Saying there no longer is time to wait, the New Jersey Transit board of directors — in a financing agreement with the state Economic Development Authority — will issue $600 million in bonds to help fund the construction of a new Portal Bridge.

The bonds represent a full commitment from New Jersey on the project, NJ Transit officials said.

“We’re not going to kick the can down the road any longer,” Department of Transportation Commissioner and NJ Transit Chair Dianne Gutierrez-Scaccetti said in a statement. “The time is long overdue for a new Portal Bridge, which is the foundation of many commuter frustrations.

“The taxpayers of New Jersey deserve a transportation system which will drive the economy and reliably get them to jobs, schools and recreation.”

The Portal Bridge is a key starting component to the Gateway Project, the necessary tunnel project that would change the transportation and infrastructure needs in the region.

Funding for the Gateway Project, which some estimate to be as much as $25 billion to $30 billion, has not been approved in Washington, D.C.

The Portal Bridge project will replace the existing two-track bridge with a new two-track fixed structure that will be approximately 2.33 miles long and will have a clearance that accommodates current and forecasted maritime traffic. This would eliminate the need for a moveable span that interrupts rail operations and results in delays due to mechanical failures.

When built, NJ Transit officials said, the new Portal North Bridge will allow for a 10 percent increase in peak hour passenger capacity.

The existing Portal Bridge, a railroad swing-type drawbridge that spans the Hackensack River, was built in 1910.

The resolution approved by the NJ Transit board authorizes the executive director in consultation with the board chair to execute and deliver the funding agreement with the NJEDA.

The EDA will issue up to $600 million in bonds which will be paid back over a 30-year term from the state Transportation Trust Fund. This same funding structure was utilized in 1999 for the construction of the River LINE light rail system.

NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said the funding is more evidence of Gov. Phil Murphy’s desire to improve transportation in the state.

“This funding is proof that Gov. Murphy, NJ Transit and the state of New Jersey are firmly committed to advancing this vital transportation infrastructure project,” Corbett said. “A better tomorrow for NJ Transit starts today.

“Our customers have suffered far too long from the outdated, unreliable Portal Bridge. A new bridge can’t wait any longer.”

John D. Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corp., said the move is another step that shows the region is moving ahead.

“Today’s action is a major next step toward construction of a 21st century Portal North Bridge, a key element of the Gateway Program that will directly benefit the 200,000 passengers on NJ Transit and Amtrak trains that use the bridge every day,” he said in a statement. “This next step — commitment of the full local share of Portal North — demonstrates that the partners are 100 percent serious about making sure the vital set of projects that constitute Gateway are built.

“We thank Govs. Murphy and (Andrew) Cuomo (of New York) and all our partners for their continued dedication to the most urgent infrastructure program in America.”