But taking a tour, watching dozens of tradesmen and women at work, and stepping on the first section of the new roadway really give you a feel for the undertaking.
On Wednesday, April 22, Port Authority employees explained just what the Raise the Roadway initiative is, and why it’s so important to Bayonne, the state of New Jersey, and the entire Northeast.
A large portion of the world’s goods travel through the Panama Canal, which is currently undergoing an expansion. Once enlarged, new, taller ships will be transporting goods to the United States, including sites in the Northeast; therein lies the problem. These taller ships will need a 200-foot clearance to navigate to Port Newark, but the current Bayonne Bridge provides for only a 151-foot clearance. Without the navigational clearance program, those “post-Panamax” ships would not be able to enter the port.
So the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey had to come up with a plan to raise the roadway, complete other needed bridge repairs, keep costs as low as possible, not interrupt maritime service, and maintain the Bayonne Bridge’s historic status.
The Port Authority believes it has done all that and more, according to Program Director Joann Papageorgis.
Tasked with the most complex undertaking of its type in the world, Papageorgis has been with the program since its inception in 2008.
Papageorgis is assisted in this endeavor by Program Manager Dennis Stabile, a Port Authority veteran who has 20 years experience in bridge projects, and a cast of hundreds.
“This is a civil engineering landmark,” Papageorgis said. “This sets bells and whistles off in terms of what you what to do.”
Instead of attempting to build a whole new bridge, which would have taken years more, cost about $2.4 billion, and required a lengthy and onerous approval process, the Port Authority devised the current plan to reconstruct the bridge, raising the roadway to 215 feet, and never fully closing the bridge down.
This process meant bringing 100-ton precast lengths of roadway by barge from Virginia, pushing them across the bridge by a horizontal crane, and then lowering them into place for construction.
“You’re building a bridge within a bridge, while keeping it open,” Papageorgis said.
When the new roadway is completed in early 2018, the bridge will not only allow the supersized vessels to pass underneath, but it will create more than $1.5 billion in regional economic activity, and will have generated more than 2,500 construction jobs and $380 million in wages.
Residents of Bayonne and Staten Island will benefit as well. The roadway will offer wider 12-foot lanes, a median divider and shoulders, and a wider, full-length shared walkway and bikeway.
There is also the potential for an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system.
“The navigational clearance is getting done, but we’re also getting a bridge for the next 100 years,” Papageorgis said.
Though the roadway has to be elevated a bit to add the 64 feet in clearance, the increase in the grade will be almost imperceptible, changing from only 4 to 5 percent. The roadway will also be quieter, and there will be acceleration and deceleration lanes.
With larger, more efficient ships, newer air quality standards will be met, affording ecological benefits for everyone.
Much care has been taken to protect residents living near the bridge. Noise and air quality monitors are in place. Sound barriers line the street between the roadway work and homeowners. Window replacement and temporary hotel stay programs have been implemented.
Stabile said that the project adheres to the highest standards when it comes to noise levels and air quality, as well as crane requirements.
Earlier in the project, all the lead from the arch was removed.
“So there will be no lead on the bridge in perpetuity,” Stabile said.
Nearby residents’ early complaints about vibrations are no longer an issue, because the bulk of the drilling for new bridge piers has been completed.
Bridge project progress
The fact that the Bayonne Bridge is a steel arch structure, made the project easier. The makeup of the bridge allowed for the launching gantry cranes to shoot the roadway segments horizontally along the span, something that would not have been possible with a suspension bridge.
Even with weather woes, the project is still pretty much on track, officials said.
In fact, what many people are unaware of is that about 35 percent of the overall work is done.
The $1.3 billion project price tag has been fully funded by the Port Authority.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.To comment on this story online visit www.hudsonreporter.com.