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Officials announce major milestone on New Jersey side of Gateway Project

Work on a major replacement of a railroad bridge through the Meadowlands — a key part of the Gateway Project to expand rail access to Penn Station — was declared half-complete Monday.

The Portal North Bridge, which will carry two tracks of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit traffic over the Hackensack River and 2 miles of New Jersey swamp, will replace a 114-year-old swing bridge known to cause delays on the Northeast Corridor.

“[William] Howard Taft was in the White House when this bridge was built,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) told reporters in Kearny, New Jersey, on Monday, referring to the current Portal Bridge. “The New York Giants played baseball at the Polo Grounds.”

Evan Simko Bednarski

Kevin Corbett, President of NJ Transit ((Evan Simko-Bednarski))

The bridge is part of the broader Gateway Project, which aims to lay two new tracks under the Hudson River and into Penn Station – with the goal of allowing repairs to the existing North River Tunnel and ultimately reducing the number of trains that can enter Penn Station to double.

“This is not a 20-year project, but a once-in-a-century project,” said Kevin Corbett, president of NJ Transit. “The girders are mostly in place now – it looks like a bridge.”

The project also calls for a major renewal of routes through New Jersey's Meadowlands, the semi-tamed marshlands along the Hackensack and Passaic rivers.

The Portal North Bridge and its partner, the future Portal South Bridge, which will run along the right-of-way of the existing swing bridge, are the crown jewels of the effort to double train service across the marsh.

But the bridge alone is also expected to reduce train delays and speed up rail service between northern New Jersey and Manhattan because it has upgraded signals and tracks and is high enough to allow ship traffic to pass through.

Federal and New Jersey Transit officials declared the North Portal Bridge

Evan Simko Bednarski

Federal and New Jersey Transit officials said Monday that the North Portal Bridge is “50% complete.” (Evan Simko Bednarski)

“Fifty percent is a pretty remarkable achievement on any project because it means you've kind of reached the top and now you're descending and landing,” said Anthony Cocia, Amtrak's chief executive.

“If you think about the idea of ​​12 million pounds of steel and 50,000 cubic yards of concrete, there are 400 workers here every day,” he added.

“There are no superlatives I could give to adequately capture the difference it will make in people’s lives if we build this megaproject.”

When the project is completed, it will create “the kind of modern four-track system that exists in most parts of the world but doesn't exist here,” Cocia said.

But this four-track system is still a long way off.

The Portal North Bridge, expected to open in 2026, will carry two tracks, allowing the current bridge to be demolished and eventually replaced by the double-track Portal South Bridge – a project for which no contracts have yet been issued and no timeline has been set.

Workers climb to the top of the new structure that will become the North Portal Bridge.

Evan Simko Bednarski

Workers climb to the top of the new structure that will become the North Portal Bridge. (Evan Simko Bednarski)

Work to prepare the riverbed for the Hudson River Tunnel to Penn Station began earlier this year. But work to shore up the ground before tunnel boring is not expected to be completed until 2027.

Even when the Hudson River Tunnel is completed, the four-track operation will rely on repairs to the 1910 North River Tunnel, which currently connects New Jersey to Penn Station, an aging piece of infrastructure that officials say is becoming was still damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

The Gateway Project, which includes building a link under Jersey City and Hoboken to connect the Meadowlands to the Hudson River tubes, is estimated to cost at least $40 billion in total.

An Amtrak inspector general report last week confirmed the federal railroad's assessment that the North Portal Bridge project is on schedule and on budget.

The report warned that Amtrak and New Jersey Transit needed better interagency communication and that Amtrak's staffing levels for the project had been inadequate at times.

The existing right-of-way over the Hackensack River will eventually be converted into the South Portal Bridge.  (Evan Simko Bednarski)

Evan Simko Bednarski

The existing right-of-way over the Hackensack River will eventually be converted into the South Portal Bridge. (Evan Simko Bednarski)

Cocia said his railroad has no objection to the report's conclusion and will work to comply with the inspector general's recommendations.

Corbett, the head of NJ Transit, brushed off the assessment.

“We’ve come this far,” he said. “I have no doubt that the team – the collective team, the Amtrak and the [NJ] The transit team will deliver that.”

Anna Harden

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