How a bridge older than the Titanic could sink NJ economy
KEARNY — A malfunction on the Portal Bridge on Friday morning held up thousands of commuters, once again bringing attention to an aging structure that carries 450 trains a day and the weight of the region's economy.
Gov. Phil Murphy called the malfunction of the century-old bridge "completely unacceptable and, most importantly, avoidable," which shows the importance of the Gateway Project for which President Donald Trump wants to hold up funding.
"New Jersey and New York have already held up our sides of the bargain by committing to fund our fair share," Murphy said. "But, time and again, the White House and Republican leadership in Congress have failed to understand the critical need for this project to be fully funded. This morning is an example of what happens to commuters and the economy when the federal government is missing in action."
Transportation Secretary Elaine Cho on Wednesday, responding to a question about the project during a congressional hearing, said "a campaign is being waged in the public arena to bully the department to pressure the federal government to fund these projects."
The campaign was in full force Friday when federal and state lawmaker of both parties used the news to urge the feds to fund the infrastructure project, which includes replacing a deteriorating Hudson River rail tunnel that was damaged by millions of gallons of saltwater after Superstorm Sandy.
The project also calls for replacing the Hudson County rail bridge and building a second span.
U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J. 3rd District, said the bridge malfunction, which resulted in the suspension of service for over two hours, was "further proof that leaders across all levels of government must come together and get the Gateway tunnel project done."
"This project is of critical importance to our nation's economy and would create thousands of jobs for the highly skilled men and women in the building and construction trades. Completing the Gateway tunnel project would be a major win for our entire nation and I will continue to work across the aisle to help make it happen," MacArthur.
Amtrak, which is spearheading the Gateway project, said the $30 billion plan would involve "replacement of the 107-year-old bridge and tunnel that were both carrying passengers while the Titanic was under construction. It is a vivid reminder that we cannot continue relying on 19th century technology to support a 21st century economy," spokesman Craig Schultz told New Jersey 101.5.
Before he left office, Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed $1.9 billion by NJ Transit, $1.75 billion by New York and $1.9 billion by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for the $12.7 billion tunnel portion of the project.
State Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, chairman of the Senate transportation committee, noted that the Wright brothers flew their first airplane in North Carolina as the Portal Bridge was being built.
Gordon suggested the state come up with a "Plan B," including expanding the Port Authority Bus Terminal, PATH service to link Newark Penn Station and Newark Liberty International Airport, ferries, commuter parking and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
Other lawmakers on Friday piled on.
“Friday morning’s delays were caused by a bridge built when Teddy Roosevelt was president. It was built before the Model T hit the road. It was built when we only had 46 states," Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex said.
“Government needs to do the basics, and that includes a reliable and effective mass transit system to get people to work on time and drive our economy. In the case of the Gateway tunnel and Portal bridge, we’re talking about our national economy – and our national security."
Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Mercer, the chairman of the Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, said Friday's malfunction could become the norm as the bridge continues to age.
"New Jersey is willing to pay our fair share for the Gateway Tunnel Project, which would include the construction of a new Portal Bridge, but the Trump Administration has shown a clear lack of leadership," he said.