Coast Guard bans Portal Bridge openings during rush hour to reduce Northeast Corridor delays

Posted On Wed, October 16, 2019 By

Posted On Wed, October 16, 2019 By In New Jersey, Policy, Transportation

Photo by Ken on Flickr

A 109-year-old swing bridge will no longer be the bain of commuters’ existence. The United States Coast Guard agreed last week to permanently restrict when boats can pass under the Portal Bridge, which carries about 200,000 passengers daily to and from Penn Station via New Jersey Transit and Amtrak. The 1910 bridge’s aging mechanics frequently malfunction while opening and closing for maritime traffic, causing hourslong delays, felt especially during rush hour.

In October of last year, the Portal Bridge was stuck open twice in one day, resulting in 90-minute delays to NJ Transit and Amtrak trains and even some cancellations. Following the transit nightmare, local officials, including New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, urged the Coast Guard to restrict maritime traffic.

In March, the agency agreed to a short-term solution of restricting the bridge from opening during rush hour. According to officials, there have been no major service disruptions since the initial six-month ban went into effect.

The Coast Guard last week extended the ban until January, with plans to make it permanent next year, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. Boats can not pass under the bridge between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. during the week.

“This is fantastic news for rail commuters and I applaud the Coast Guard for taking this significant step, but this is by no means the end of the line in our efforts to ensure we have a safe, reliable and modern transportation network,” Menendez said in a statement.

“While a permanent rush hour ban will alleviate pressure on the Portal Bridge and restore some reliability to the system, riders will never truly have peace of mind and faith in our rail system until the century-old, oft-malfunctioning span is replaced and a new Hudson rail tunnel built.”

Replacement of the Portal Bridge falls under the Gateway Program, a major transit initiative to improve the reliability of the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail line in the country. Gateway also includes the $11 billion Hudson Tunnel Project, which would construct a new rail tunnel and fix the current one, as well as an expansion of Penn Station.

But the projects remain at a standstill as the U.S. Department of Transportation refuses to share the cost of the $30 billion program. Politico reported last year that President Donald Trump’s opposition to providing federal funding stems from his feud with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a supporter of the project and a vocal critic of the president. The administration cut funding in its 2020 federal budget for the bridge to $325 million, which Schumer had called holding the project for “political ransom,” as the Times reported.

The new bridge would include a two-track replacement known as Portal North Bridge and would sit about 50 feet over the river and not open. The project, expected to cost $1.5 billion, recently completed its design phase but needs more funding to begin construction.

[Via NY Times]

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