Elected officials, transportation leaders celebrate North Portal Bridge reaching 50% completion milestone

After years of delays — and, quite frankly, decades of worries that the massive Gateway Tunnel project would ever come to be — the announcement Monday that the Portal North Bridge project was 50% finished was worthy of a celebration.

That’s why numerous elected officials and transportation leaders gathered Monday in Kearny to mark the occasion at a ceremony at the construction site.

The new bridge will replace the current 114-year-old swing bridge, which opens for maritime traffic, often resulting in a bottleneck along the busiest stretch of passenger rail in the country. The new bridge is a fixed span that eliminates the need to open and close.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.) was so excited, he nearly broke out into song.

“New Jersey’s own Bon Jovi sang about being ‘halfway there,’” he said. “But we are not living on any prayer: This new bridge is a reality.”

Pascrell said the impact of the bridge cannot be overstated.

“The primary purpose of government is to improve the daily lives of our neighbors,” he said. “When it is soon finished, this new bridge will better the lives of millions of our neighbors. Leadership matters. President (Joe) Biden, Gov. (Phil) Murphy, our delegation in Congress and state leaders have worked hand-in-hand and we have delivered as a team. I cannot wait to be right here to cut the ribbon to this great bridge to our state’s bright future.”

The Portal North Bridge is a new modern two-track, high-level, fixed-span bridge that will improve service and capacity along this section of the Northeast Corridor. The new Portal North Bridge will rise 50 feet over the Hackensack River, nearly doubling the height clearance, and will allow marine traffic to pass underneath without interrupting rail traffic.

The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, New Jersey, New York and Amtrak.

Michael Culotta, regional administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, which has provided $926 million in federal grants for the project, agreed.

“The Portal North Bridge Project stands as a testament to collaboration towards a common goal: Enhancing the region’s transportation network and ensuring that people can seamlessly access New Jersey, New York and beyond by train,” he said.

“The Federal Transit Administration is committed to improving transit access for everyone who uses the Northeast Corridor.”

New Jersey Transit CEO Kevin Corbett said the milestone is a testament to the workers.

“Less than two years after officially breaking ground in August 2022, NJ Transit is pleased to be able to demonstrate that megaprojects in the Northeast can be advanced on-time and on budget,” he said. “The new Portal North Bridge will significantly enhance the customer experience for New Jerseyans, as well as all those commuting along the entire Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston.”

Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia agreed.

“With 50% of construction complete, Portal North Bridge serves as the shining example for what Amtrak and its partners can accomplish when we have the investments, partnerships and commitment to build the new era of America’s rail infrastructure projects,” he said. “We are grateful to the administration, USDOT, Gov. Murphy, NJ Transit, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and all the elected leadership in New Jersey for their continued support in helping us modernize and transform the Northeast Corridor.”

New Jersey Alliance for Action President Jerry Keenan summed it up this way.

“Today is a huge landmark in a project that will transform lives and businesses across the region —- and that’s why we have supported it from Day One,” he said. “The current span is a major bottleneck and a source of delays, making us late for work, late for dinner and late for our children’s activities.”