Facing the potential loss of import business from Toys “R” Us and other major companies, State Senator Ray Lesniak said that it is critical that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey come up with a detailed plan and timetable for the future of the Bayonne Bridge.
While the Port Authority has announced a plan to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge in order to make room under the bridge to accommodate new and larger cargo ships bound for ports Newark and Elizabeth along Newark Bay, no specifics have yet been announced, leaving shippers uncertain about the future when it comes to making long range plans.
“The consequences on the local economy is unfathomable.” – Senator Ray Lesniak
“Toys ‘R’ Us and other major shippers have told me they are very serious about shifting cargo from N.Y./N.J. come 2014-2015 (Panama Canal completion),” he said. “I am sure that their vendors (the ocean carriers who own the ships) are telling them that once the canal project is done, they’ll be able to put bigger ships into their services, thereby creating much lower costs per slot on the ships for the shippers like Toys ‘R’ Us.”
Lesniak said these companies have not yet made a commitment to changing ports north and south of the New York region, but they will need a firm timeline from the Port Authority soon.
“I’ve spoken with Mr. (Bill) Balboni (deputy director of the Port Authority), and he said that he will be meeting with local government officials and shippers soon and that a detailed plan will be issued shortly,” Lesniak said.
Move soon or lose the business
Calling it “vital” that the Port Authority announce this plan as soon as possible along with a timetable, Lesniak said at risk are thousands of jobs, not merely in port operations, but warehousing, trucking, retail, and other related occupations – all of which would suffer if the ships are directed to other ports.
“Entities like Toys ‘R’ Us won’t care what gateway the cargo/container comes through on the east coast, as long as their ultimate point-to-point cost is cheaper,” he said. “We won’t be able to compete because the bigger ships will dictate the market rate. The other gateways (our direct competition) can handle the larger ships.”
The Port Authority’s press release on “the final decision” on the Bayonne Bridge was void of any detail or definitive timeline, Lesniak said.
“This frustrated and highly disappointed the ocean carriers and shippers. In my estimation, the Port Authority must come out with an aggressive, short, and definitive timeline to accomplish the mission on the Bayonne Bridge as close as possible to 2014,” he said. “Anything short of that is Russian Roulette.”
He said these containers must stay in New Jersey and not relocate to other ports.
“This is huge,” he said. “The consequences on the local economy is unfathomable. Toys ‘R’ Us and other companies need to make investment decisions now, based on their own 10 and 20 year plans,” Lesniak said. “Right now, they have a high level of uncertainty.”
If these companies are not made aware of what will happen five years from now, they will make plans for ports where these new and larger ships can be accommodated.
“We’re not at that stage now but this is a critical point, and I’ve pressed the Port Authority to take action,” he said. “I’ve been told that they are going to make that announcement soon.”
In December, the Port Authority released a report from a committee to make recommendations for raising the height of the bridge to provide greater clearance for the new ships from the current 151 feet to 215 feet.
Although the Port Authority proposed raising the roadway, it did not give any details, except to say that it would not require the loss of residential housing, something feared by local officials.
Following Lesniak’s lead, the Hudson County Freeholders passed a resolution on Jan. 13, urging the Port Authority to move more quickly on the matter, saying that port operations and their related industries generate about $5 billion in annual federal, state, and local taxes. The resolution said the Port Authority needs to provide a detailed plan within 45 days to ease the discomfort some importers feel.
Port Authority is working on plans
In December, Balboni said the Port Authority and its staff will be working on the engineering issues that will make this plan possible, which includes roadway design, lane configuration, and upgrades to the existing 10-foot-wide lanes that will provide median dividers and shoulders. Additional safety and security measures will also be added.
The port currently supports approximately 269,000 jobs in the New York and New Jersey region, and provides for $11.2 billion in personal income; $36.1 billion in business income; and $5 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenues.
In 2009, the port handled 4.6 million loaded and unloaded 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The dollar value of all cargo handled was more than $146 billion.
City officials said they believe that the raising of the bridge is possible without needing to extend ramps into residential areas, although they said the current Avenue A access to the bridge would likely cease to exist under the new plan and that access to the bridge would be done by elevating the Route 440 approach.
The Port Authority is also apparently considering adding a light rail extension across the bridge to Staten Island, something that is very possible since the soon-to-be open Eighth Street station and its rail line extension to it run alongside a portion of Route 440.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.