Home>Congress>Murphy, Buttigieg, N.J. electeds break ground on Portal North Bridge

Groundbreaking for the new Portal North Bridge on August 1, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Murphy, Buttigieg, N.J. electeds break ground on Portal North Bridge

Bridge marks first step of larger Gateway Program

By Joey Fox, August 01 2022 2:16 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and a horde of New Jersey’s federal, state, and union officials broke ground on the Portal North Bridge in Kearny this morning, formally beginning work on the Gateway Program that has long promised to improve North Jersey’s snarled rail infrastructure.

“Today, we take the next great step of putting shovels in the ground so that this bridge can finally become reality,” Murphy said. “Finally, the most important infrastructure project in the entire nation is being kicked off.”

The new bridge, scheduled for completion in 2026, will replace the current Portal Bridge, which was completed in 1910 and has ferried trains across the Hackensack River ever since. Thanks to its advanced age, the bridge requires trains to slow down before crossing it and often does not close properly after allowing ships through, causing frequent train delays.

“Simply put, the Portal Bridge is a chokepoint on the busiest stretch of rail in America, and it is a chokepoint on the future,” U.S. Senator Bob Menendez said.

Joining Menendez from New Jersey’s congressional delegation were U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), Donald Payne Jr. (D-Newark), Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing).

“This is not charity,” Booker said, seemingly in response to criticism of the project’s cost. “This is investing in the most profitable region in the United States of America. For every dollar of infrastructure invested in a project like this, we’re getting more than five back.”

Building a replacement for the Portal Bridge is only the first phase of the broader Gateway Program, which aims to replace and upgrade outdated transit infrastructure connecting New Jersey to New York City; other projects include the construction of the Hudson Tunnel and the expansion of Penn Station.

As several speakers at today’s groundbreaking noted, the groundwork for Gateway has existed for many years, but was delayed under former President Donald Trump. Though Trump himself focused on infrastructure during his presidential campaigns, Trump’s administration was largely uninterested in pursuing the Gateway Program, meaning that it was held back until President Joe Biden took office and secured federal funding via the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“After years of politically motivated delays under the previous administration, the leaders who are here have made sure that this will not slip, and it will get done on time,” Buttigieg said. “They have succeeded in bringing us to this point.”

The Trump administration’s dawdling was not the first time a Republican administration hobbled a North Jersey transit project. In 2010, Gov. Chris Christie famously killed the in-progress Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, a similar effort that would have built a new tunnel across the Hudson River, just as Gateway is slated to do.

Asked whether he was nervous that future governors or national leaders might derail Gateway the way Christie did for ARC, Murphy said he was “confident” the state would not go back to the days of canceling expensive projects halfway through.

“New Jersey is a transit hub state, and no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, no matter what your political outlook is, that’s part of the furniture,” Murphy said. “That’s the way it’s always going to be.”

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