Contract awarded to replace Portal North Bridge, a rail line bottleneck

The New Jersey Transit board of directors has awarded a $1.56 billion contract to Skanska/Traylor Bros. Joint Venture to build a new Portal North Bridge to replace a century-old rail bridge that has been the source of regular delays for years.

The project, a vital component of the Gateway Program, will eliminate the critical issues caused by operating and maintaining the swing bridge that have long plagued the most heavily traveled portion of the Northeast Corridor.

The Gateway Program is an urgent infrastructure program, intended as a comprehensive rail investment program that would improve reliability, resiliency and redundancy while creating new capacity for a critical section of the Northeast Corridor– the most heavily used passenger rail line in the country.

The contract is the largest in NJ Transit history and covers 2.44 miles of the corridor. It includes retaining walls, deep foundations, concrete piers, structural steel bridge spans, rail systems, demolition of the existing bridge and related incidental work. Once construction begins, it is projected to take approximately five and a half years.

The $1.56 billion contract is the largest in NJ Transit’s history, said CEO Kevin Corbett in a statement. The board of directors approved a joint venture comprising Sweden-based Skanska and Traylor Brothers, a civil construction company based in Evansville, Indiana. Construction is expected to take about five years.

The Portal North Bridge is to replace a 111-year-old swing bridge over the Hackensack River that occasionally becomes stuck after it opens to allow boats to pass, and must be manually hammered back into place. The new bridge will allow marine traffic to pass underneath without interrupting rail traffic.

The project completed its design phase and received environmental approvals several years ago, but languished while New York and New Jersey officials squabbled with the Trump administration over dividing up the costs between the states and the federal government.

The Gateway Program Development Corporation (GDC) – a partnership of the States of New York, New Jersey and Amtrak – oversees delivery of the Gateway Program, with support from partner agencies.

The project is part of a broader effort to modernize and increase rail service in the New York metro region and which also includes a plan to build a new, $10 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

The existing Portal Bridge, which is 110 years old and carries about 450 Amtrak and NJ Transit trains over the Hackensack River daily, had become a source of severe delays for trains running into and out of Manhattan.

The bridge would often become stuck in the open position, cutting off the busiest rail corridor in America.

Then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the Portal North Bridge was a major infrastructure project in the New York City area on July 14, 2016, but almost no forward movement was made on the project during the entire time Republican President Donald Trump occupied the White House.

The replacement project had been delayed for years as Trump blocked action on the Gateway Program, a $30 billion capital plan that includes the bridge and construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

The hold on the program was said to be linked to the former president’s animosity for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a major supporter of the initiative.

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