Because the work being done by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will take place over the navigable waters of the Kill Van Kull, the Coast Guard requires a bridge permit amendment.
The Bayonne Bridge is a steel arch bridge that connects Bayonne with Staten Island over the Kill Van Kull. The bridge was designed by O.H. Ammann, a Swiss-American bridge builder who also designed the George Washington Bridge. It is owned and operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The Port Authority plans to raise the road bed of the Bayonne Bridge from its current 151-foot clearance to 215 feet above the Kill Van Kull to accommodate large Panamax ships that will be able to navigate through the Panama Canal after it is upgraded in 2014.
Howland Hook in Mariners Harbor and ports in Newark and Elizabeth would be impacted if these larger ships could not clear the bridge and had to unload elsewhere.
The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that 12 percent of all international containers entering the United States pass under the Bayonne Bridge, and raising it will produce an estimated $3.3 billion national benefit.
A New York Shipping Association, Inc., study found that the ports produce approximately 269,900 direct and indirect jobs and nearly $11 billion in annual wages.
A project years in the making
In 2009, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a report saying that the bridge needed to be raised. The problem was that raising the bridge itself would have created longer access ramps on both sides and required the taking of land.
Rep. Albio Sires was an early proponent of finding a quick solution to raising the bridge and in January 2010, he urged the Port Authority to find a solution that would allow larger freight container ships to enter Newark Bay and access port facilities in Newark, Elizabeth and Staten Island.
In February 2010, a state Assembly Commerce and Economy Development Committee issued an urgent request for the Port Authority to find a solution. Prior to this, the Port Authority had initiated a $10 million study for possible designs.
The Port Authority announced its Raise the Roadway alternative in December 2010, saying that it provided the most cost-effective solution to the Bayonne Bridge clearance issue.
In July 2012, President Barack Obama agreed to fast track the environmental review process, cutting more than seven months from the usual process in order to help the project meet the tight deadline.
Fortunately, Sires said, the Panama Canal widening was delayed somewhat, buying the bridge project some time. Originally slated to start sending the new ships to the east coast as early as 2014, the ships are expected to start arriving at some point in 2015 or a little later.
If all goes well, Port Authority officials believe the bridge will be raised by the fall of 2015.
Estimates show that nearly 64 percent of container shipments worldwide are being done by the large ships called Post-Panamax Vessels, none of which can fit under the bridge as it is currently designed. Most of the ships require a clearance of at least 200 feet.
The construction of the original bridge cost $13 million. The estimated cost for raising the roadway is about 10 times that or $1.3 billion. Gov. Christie pushed to get funding for the project.
The port currently supports about 269,000 jobs in the New York and New Jersey region, and provides about $11.2 billion in personal income and more than $6 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue, according to statistics supplied by the Port Authority.
The roadway project would build a new roadway span higher up into the existing historic arch of the bridge, while allowing traffic to continue on the original portion during construction. Lifting the pieces of the new roadway and its connectors would take place at night when the bridge would be closed, and when the new roadbed is complete, the old one will be demolished. The expansion would provide four 12-foot wide traffic lanes, a wider bicycle and pedestrian walkway, as well as a component for possible train transportation across the bridge, officials said.
“Connecting Bayonne, N.J., to Staten Island, N.Y., it continues to serve the region as an economic powerhouse to this day by acting as a gateway to the ports.” – Rep. Albio Sires
Representatives from city, state and local governments encouraged the Coast Guard to approve its assessment so that the project could move ahead.
This included State Senator Sandra Cunningham, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner representing Rep. Albio Sires, Bayonne Business Administrator Steve Gallo representing Mayor Mark Smith, and Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell.
In a statement, Sires said, “As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee representing an extensive transportation network with nearly every mode of transportation present in my district, one of the most important projects is the Bayonne Bridge ‘Raise the Roadway’ project. Built in 1931, the Bayonne Bridge was once the longest steel arch bridge in the world. Connecting Bayonne, N.J., to Staten Island, N.Y., it continues to serve the region as an economic powerhouse to this day by acting as a gateway to the ports.”
Sires said that two years ago, it was announced that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be raising the Bayonne Bridge from its current height of 156 feet to 215 feet.
“Stemming from the widening of the Panama Canal which will allow for larger ships to reach the East Coast, this official announcement built upon a planning study commissioned by the Port Authority to determine the best way to accommodate larger vessels,” Sires said. “While other ports along the East Coast are encountering issues with harbors being too shallow, our harbor is deep enough. Indeed it is the height of the bridge that remains an obstacle. With the Panama expansion project now scheduled to be completed in 2015, time is of the essence to expedite the raising of the Bayonne Bridge.”
Cunningham said that it is important to support the project.
“There are two important reasons to support this project the economic growth and development to this part of New Jersey which includes Bayonne, Jersey City and the surrounding area which needs this project, and the fact that it can be done with little impact on the existing community,” she said.
Bayonne City Council President Terrence Ruane said city government supports the project because it imposes the least impact on the local population and will provide a staggering boost to the local economy.
John Hughes, a local attorney, said his family has lived in Bayonne for generations, and said commerce for the city and region depend upon the raising of the bridge. He noted that the raising of the roadway provides a number of significant positive impacts, including a public transportation element that will be very helpful for Bayonne and Staten Island.
Vincent Virga, president of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce, said the project would improve the economy and also provide for more fuel-efficient shipping.
Union officials said fewer ships would be needed to access the ports because of their increased capacities, and that other changes made in the port facilities themselves would improve air quality.