Officials are launching a multibillion-dollar project that experts say is crucial to the future of the ports of New Jersey and New York.

It includes a deepening of New York Harbor and the raising of the Bayonne Bridge. Both will enable larger ships to use the ports after the Panama Canal is widened in 2014.

Cargo volume could double at the ports in the next 10 years, and there's competition among East Coast ports to attract the larger ships.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey could hear later this month if the $1 billion bridge-raising project has been approved for fast-track environmental permitting.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye officially launched the $2 billion harbor-deepening effort Wednesday in Staten Island.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)