FRA, New Jersey Transit Begin Study of Portal Bridge

WASHINGTON – Public comments are being sought for a project to replace, repair, or retain a 96-year-old railroad bridge on the heavily congested Northeast Corridor connecting the Newark, N.J., and New York.

The Federal Railroad Administration and New Jersey Transit will jointly prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS), in cooperation with Amtrak, to study improvements to enhance capacity and operation of the Amtrak-owned Portal Bridge that spans the Hackensack River. Originally constructed in 1910, the bridge is nearing the end of its projected lifespan, officials say.

“Because of the bridge’s critical role in the successful operation of the Northeast Corridor, it’s essential that we consider all of the possible options and determine the best way to ensure safe and efficient transportation,” Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman said, noting that the two-track bridge currently handles 393 New Jersey Transit and 51 Amtrak trains each weekday.

Among the Portal Bridge options under consideration: retaining the existing structure and building a new bridge with two or three additional tracks; modifying the existing bridge to improve its safety and possibly adding a second bridge as well; and removing the Portal Bridge altogether and replacing it.

The FRA, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak will evaluate the potential effects of each alternative on the surrounding social, economic and physical environment, with a focus on ecology, historic value, aesthetics, as well as transportation and air quality, Boardman explained.

Earlier this year, the N.J. Transit Board of Directors awarded a $3.3 million contract to New York-based AKRF Inc. to determine how best to increase rail capacity at the two-track swing bridge, which carries the Northeast Corridor over the Hackensack River just west of Secaucus Junction.

Public comment on the scope of the EIS, including the range of alternatives considered and environmental issues or concerns will be accepted through Jan. 31, 2007.

– Special to News Wire