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NJ Congressional Delegation Announces Full Federal Funding For Portal Bridge Reaches Last Hurdle

MENENDEZ, BOOKER, PASCRELL, SIRES, PAYNE, MALINOWSKI ANNOUNCE PORTAL BRIDGE REACHES FINAL HURDLE TO SECURING FULL FEDERAL FUNDING AGREEMENT

FTA submits full funding agreement for 30-day congressional review

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee that oversees the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program, and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09), Albio Sires (N.J.-08), Donald Payne, Jr. (N.J.-10) and Tom Malinowski (N.J.-07), announced that an $823.6 million federal Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for construction of a new Portal North Bridge was formally submitted to Congress last night for its statutorily-required 30-day review.

The congressional review is the final step before the allocation of federal funding is officially approved.  According to the agreement, the FTA will allocate $766.5 million in CIG funding.  An additional $57.1 million will be provided through the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program towards the $1.8 billion project.  The balance of funding will include $811 million that the State of New Jersey has committed to the project and $261.5 million from Amtrak.

Building a new, higher, fixed Portal North Bridge is a key component of the broader Gateway Project, which includes modernizing the rail infrastructure between Newark and New York Penn Stations, construction of a new Hudson River rail tunnel and rehabilitation of the existing century-old tubes that were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

“This is an important and long overdue milestone in our years-long fight to provide relief to delay-weary commuters and improve the safety and reliability of our transportation network,” said Sen. Menendez, ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee.  “We are now on the cusp of securing the federal funding we need to replace the oft-malfunctioning Portal Bridge and getting construction underway on a new, modern span, but our work is far from over.  We must continue building a 21st century transportation system that ensures New Jersey’s and the region’s economic vitality for generations to come.  That is why I remain committed to advancing the construction of a new, trans-Hudson rail tunnel and completing the entire Gateway Project.”

“Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to advancing one of the most critical infrastructure projects in our nation,” said Sen. Booker.  “Delays caused by the unreliable, century-old Portal Bridge have plagued not only New Jersey commuters for far too long, but also commuters across the entire Northeast Corridor.  As we continue the fight to advance this vital project, we must not lose focus on finding long-term solutions to help ensure commuter safety and increase our economic competitiveness through robust infrastructure investment, including completion of the Gateway Program.”

“The Portal Bridge is a relic.  It is far past time that we upgrade this dangerous structure and modernize our cross-river transportation,” said Rep. Pascrell, who represents Kearny.  “I’m thrilled Governor Murphy and NJ TRANSIT are continuing to prioritize the Gateway Project, which includes the restoration of the Portal Bridge in Phase 1.  It is dead wrong that New Jerseyans have been forced to traverse a bridge that is more than a century old, and we won’t stand for it.  I thank Governor Murphy for his steadfast commitment to the Gateway Project.  I look forward to working with him and the incoming Biden Administration to see this project completed.”

“This grant agreement is the necessary next step towards making headway on a new and updated Portal North Bridge for New Jersey.  Replacing and upgrading this century-old infrastructure is crucial to ensuring that passengers no longer need to worry about delays caused by needing to set the bridge back in place.  I have long fought to secure federal funding for the nation’s busiest passenger rail line, which is why I am glad to finally see progress being made on a critical piece to the Gateway Project.  I look forward to advancing the Portal North Bridge project and urge my colleagues to support its completion,”said Rep. Sires, who represents Kearny and sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“During my time in Congress, I have fought to get millions in federal funding for both the Portal North Bridge and Gateway Project,” said Rep. Payne, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  “I am excited to hear that we are one step closer to breaking ground on the new Portal North Bridge.  The current 110-year-old bridge has served us well.  But we need a safer and more reliable bridge to help local and national commuters for the next 100 years.  As a member of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, I will continue to fight for funding as needed to get this bridge built as quickly as possible.”

“Securing this funding for the Portal North Bridge is a major win for New Jersey commuters, and is the result of relentless Congressional pressure,” said Rep. Malinowski, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  “I look forward to construction starting as soon as possible, and to working with the incoming Administration to advance the Hudson River Tunnel portion of the Gateway Project.”

The 110-year-old Portal Bridge, long considered the linchpin of the entire Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the source of major service disruptions for Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT riders, carries an average 450 trains and 200,000 passengers each day.  The antiquated, swing-style span over the Hackensack River in Kearny is notorious for breaking down and getting stuck in the open position, stranding commuters and grinding service to a halt.

The Northeast Corridor generates one-fifth of the nation’s economy, and the NEC Commission estimates that a disruption of the NEC from Boston to Washington, D.C. would cost the country $100 million a day in lost production and economic activity.  In response to a question from Sen. Menendez during a Feb. 12 Senate Banking Committee hearing, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified that any sustained closing of the NEC due to a failure of either the Portal Bridge or Hudson River rail tunnels would put the economy at significant risk.

In August, the FTA announced that $248 million had already been set aside for the Portal Bridge replacement project, pending completion of the FFGA, funding that came from appropriations the congressional delegation successfully fought to provide the CIG program in FY18 and FY19—precisely for its future use to advance the Gateway Project—over the objections of the Trump Administration.  This followed the FTA officially moving the project into the engineering phase of the CIG program in June, at the insistence of the congressional delegation and other stakeholders, and in February, upgrading the project’s rating to medium-high, making it eligible to enter the engineering phase, a significant step towards achieving an FFGA.

In May, the delegation announced over $91.5 million in funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to advance replacement of the Portal Bridge and make other upgrades to improve service along the NEC.

Earlier this year at Sen. Menendez’s request, the U.S. Coast Guard moved to permanently restrict marine traffic along the Hackensack River during morning and evening rush hours to eliminate the need for Portal to open and reduce the risk of a bridge failure during peak travel times.  Sen. Menendez had brokered the original agreement that led to the Coast Guard initially issuing a temporary marine traffic ban and provide relief for commuters.

In 2015, Sens. Menendez and Booker and Reps. Pascrell and Sires helped secure a $16 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to help fund $20 million in preliminary construction work on the Portal North Bridge, which broke ground in the fall of 2017.

The Portal North Bridge FFGA can be read and downloaded here.

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