The U.S. Coast Guard is permanently keeping a Hackensack River drawbridge down during rush hours to prevent commuting nightmares for rail passengers.

The plan is meant to reduce the risk of the Portal Bridge getting stuck during NJ Transit and Amtrak rail peak hours to and from New York Penn Station.

In March, the Coast Guard restricted the bridge opening between 5 and 10 a.m. and 3 and 8 p.m. The Coast Guard has extended the marine restrictions until Jan. 8 to allow for permanent rule-making changes to be completed.

Last year, the 109-year-old rail span failed to properly close five times, causing major disruptions. There have been no disruptions since the initial six-month peak rush hour ban went into effect in March.

On several previous occasions, NJ Transit workers were forced to knock the tracks that run along the bridge back into place using a sledge hammer.

The move had been urged by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the transit subcommittee.

Menendez on Tuesday called the latest decision by the Coast Guard “fantastic news for rail commuters" and renewed support for the Gateway tunnel project.

“While a permanent rush hour ban will alleviate pressure on the Portal Bridge and restore some reliability to the system, riders will never truly have peace of mind and faith in our rail system until the century-old, oft-malfunctioning span is replaced and a new Hudson rail tunnel built," he said. "We are sitting on a transportation ticking time bomb and must move forward on Gateway without further delay.”

The Trump Administration has resisted calls to construct a new Portal Bridge or a new Gateway Rail Tunnel.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the Portal Bridge schedule is only a "short-term solution to our region’s commuter crisis" and "temporary fix."

"With thousands of people and billions of dollars of economic productivity traveling along the Northeast Corridor, the Gateway Project and the replacement of the Portal Bridge is the permanent solution," Booker said. "This administration must provide the federal funding for the Gateway Project so the new Portal Bridge can serve both our maritime and rail sectors simultaneously.”

Stephen Gardner, the chief operating and commercial officer of Amtrak, said he appreciates efforts to address a serious problem, and he noted “the new Portal North Bridge will have much higher clearance over the river, negating the need to open and close, and representing the best and most equitable way to meet the needs of all users of the Hackensack River.”

 

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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