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American Shipper

Port plans to raise Bayonne Bridge, roadway

Port plans to raise Bayonne Bridge, roadway

   The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Wednesday it has determined the preferred way to make its shipping terminals accessible to larger ships is to raise the roadway of the existing Bayonne Bridge to 215 feet instead of building a new bridge or a tunnel.

   Currently ships calling at the main container terminals in Elizabeth and Newark, N.J. — such as those operated by Maher Terminals, APM Terminals or Ports America, or the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook on Staten Island — must pass beneath the Bayonne Bridge, which has only 151 feet of clearance or “air draft” (the distance from the water's surface to the underside of the bridge roadway) at high tide. That gap can increase to as much as 156 feet at low tide.

   The bi-state agency said the low-slung roadway will pose an increasingly serious navigational problem after the Panama Canal is expanded in 2014 and bigger containership are expected to call New York and New Jersey from Asia.

   Raising the roadway will involve reconstruction of the existing approaches, ramps, and main span roadway to a higher elevation that would allow the crossing to accommodate larger ships for years to come.

   The port authority said in addition to being the most cost effective approach, the raised roadway will have “the fewest environmental and neighborhood impacts. This bridge modification approach also minimizes visual and physical impacts to the historic bridge,” which was the longest steel arch bridge when it opened in 1931 until 1977. (It is just 25 inches longer than the Sydney Harbor Bridge.) Today it is said to be the fourth-longest steel arch bridge.

   Pledges to “solve the Bayonne Bridge problem” have been included in nearly every speech to the shipping community by port authority officials and New Jersey politicians for several years. In October, the port authority board agreed to provide up to $1 billion in its capital planning process to help finance a “Bayonne Bridge solution.”

   The agency did not say how expensive the modifications would be or how long they will take to complete. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study performed last year for the port authority estimated it would cost about $1.3 billion (plus $188 million for interest during construction) to jack the roadway to 215 feet and take about nine years to complete.

   While a retrofit would be expensive and take a long time, the study found it was much cheaper and faster than other alternatives. Building a new bridge would cost $2.16 billion and take 12 years; new tunnel could cost $2.2 billion to $3.1 billion and take 14 years.

   The port authority for a time had hoped it might be able to find a way to modify the center span of the bridge into a lift bridge at an even lower cost, but it apparently a study found that idea was not feasible. It even looked briefly at building locks to lower ships beneath the bridge.

   “The announcement is good news for the sustainability and viability of the port, and now we must shift our focus to expediting the environmental process and finalizing the remaining engineering issues so we can develop a construction process,” said Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, a group that represents terminal operators and other businesses in the port.

   New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie praised the raise the roadway solution calling it “fiscally appropriate and environmentally sound.” Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, this summer vowed during a visit by the President of Panama that the Bayonne Bridge problem would be solved by the time the canal opened in 2014. That statement was been seen as a moment of over enthusiasm — it is unclear whether the Army Corps estimate of a 2019 completion date can be bested.

   In June, the Port Authority Board of Commissioners moved to expedite the project by agreeing to retain nationally known consulting teams to provide technical information on environmental and regulatory issues related to the Bayonne Bridge project.

   The port authority said its consulting teams have worked to develop approaches to expedite the environmental review process, including the National Environmental Policy Act requirements, and other applicable regulations. ' Chris Dupin