Amtrak Portal Bridge replacement construction gets green light

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A rendering of the proposed Portal North Bridge, a railroad span over the Hackensack River in New Jersey. (Amtrak Image)

A project to replace a century-old rail bridge that has been a regular source of delays on the corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., is getting the "all aboard" to begin construction.

New Jersey Transit has issued a notice to proceed for the Portal North Bridge project, which will build a new bridge over the Hackensack River in northern New Jersey to replace a 112-year-old swing bridge that occasionally becomes stuck after opening to allow boats to pass underneath. 

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Opened in 1910, the Portal Bridge, which spans the river between Secaucus and Kearny, carries hundreds of Amtrak and commuter trains every day. When the bridge gets jammed, trains up and down the northeastern U.S. are delayed, sometimes for hours. 

"After years of crucial behind the scenes work, this notice to proceed means train customers will soon see tangible evidence of our commitment to modernizing the rail system," Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. "Today's announcement is another testament to our partners in the Biden Administration, NJ TRANSIT, the U.S. Department of Transportation, our federal delegation, and Amtrak for continuing to prioritize this vital project."

Sweden-based Skanska and Evansville, Indiana-based Traylor Brothers will jointly build the new bridge, which could take up to six years. 

"A two-track replacement bridge – Portal North – will replace this outdated relic with a modern, high-level fixed span that does not open or close, eliminating the movable components and risk of malfunction," Amtrak states on its project webpage. "The new bridge will rise more than 50-feet over the river and, including the approaches, span nearly 2.5 miles of the Northeast Corridor."

The Federal Transit Administration awarded a $766 million grant for the project last year; New Jersey Transit is contributing roughly $800 million and Amtrak about $260 million.

The bridge is part of the Gateway project, a broader effort to modernize and increase rail service in the New York metro region and which also includes a plan to build a new, $10 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River and expand New York's Penn Station.

"Because of our shared unwavering commitment, we now celebrate the start of major construction on a new Portal North Bridge — the first of the Gateway Program projects to reach this milestone," Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia said in a statement. "The new bridge rising over the Hackensack River will be a visible reminder to Northeast Corridor passengers that a new day is dawning for rail travel in America — safer, faster and more reliable."

With The Associated Press.