Amtrak's Portal Bridge mishap highlights infrastructure crisis

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The Portal Bridge (courtesy of Amtrak)

Another day, another delay-ridden commute for thousands of NJ Transit and Amtrak customers. Rail service along the Northeast Corridor ground to a halt because the century-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River was stuck in the open position.

Amtrak, which owns the bridge, said the problem was caused by a combination of testing on the bridge, additional work at Penn Station, and on top of it all a power failure.

"The power failure caused the delay and the need to manually remedy the problem which is what brought the problem to the point that it affected it," Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia said.

But while those factors all contributed to Friday's major disruption, Coscia said the real problem is the deteriorating state of the 108-year-old bridge. Replacing it, which will cost $1.5 billion, is a key component of the Gateway Project.

Federal funding for the project is currently at the center of a political standoff between the president and Congress. President Trump has threatened to veto an omnibus spending bill that includes $900 million in spending for the gateway project. That threat has drawn protest from the bipartisan congressional delegation in New York and New Jersey.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said the president's "petty political vendetta" will affect millions of people who use the Northeast Corridor if every time the Portal Bridge can't close rail service stops.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he would not vote for the omnibus spending bill if it doesn’t include funding for the Gateway Project.

Executives with the Gateway Development Corporation said the longer the Portal Bridge repairs are delayed, the more expensive the project will become. They estimated that past the middle of 2019 it will cost an additional $150,000 a day.

Amtrak Ready To Build: Portal North Bridge Project (Portal film) from Amtrak Media on Vimeo.