Bridging the Water in One of the Nation’s Most Important Regions for Transportation and Commerce

Portal North Bridge - photo via Credit Amtrak Media
May 24, 2022

The Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, MA is the busiest segment of the nation’s intercity passenger rail transportation system. In addition to intercity passenger rail, the region between northern NJ and New York City is one of the busiest areas for commuter rail and freight service with approximately 8 million residents on either side of the border.

To get from NY to NJ or vice versa, passengers and freight on most trains must cross not only the famed Hudson River but one or more of the lesser-known Passaic, Raritan, and Hackensack Rivers. The last of these is crossed by the Portal Bridge, a 111-year-old swing-span bridge, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad and placed into service in November 1910.

While the bridge may not be top-of-mind for much of the general public, it is a critical rail link that is well known to transportation risk analysts due to its age and current condition. Now, 10 years beyond its original 100-year design life (based on design concepts from the 1840s!), this essential element of the nation’s transportation infrastructure will be replaced as part of the broader Gateway Program that will eventually double rail capacity between Newark, NJ, and New York.

As described by NJ Transit, the existing bridge will be replaced with “a modern, high-level fixed span that does not open or close, eliminating the movable components and risk of malfunction. The new bridge will rise 50-feet over the river and, including the approaches, span nearly 2.5 miles of the Northeast Corridor.” The new bridge will also allow marine traffic to pass underneath without interrupting rail traffic for bridge openings.

After completion of an environmental impact statement in 2008, the project received support from entities including Amtrak, NJ DOT, NJ TRANSIT, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the U.S. Congress to obtain the necessary funding commitments of $1.7 billion. Notice to Proceed was issued in early April 2022 to a joint venture of Skanska and Traylor Brothers, with NJ Governor Phil Murphy emphasizing his commitment to investments in environmentally friendly mass transit. Alpha 3 has been engaged to provide design of temporary electrical services to support the project sites. Construction management will be provided by a joint venture of AECOM and STV.

The NJ Transportation Planning Authority’s long-range plan for the 13-county northern NJ region emphasizes increased economic activity, affordable, accessible and dynamic transportation systems, and protection and improvement of both natural ecosystems and the built environment. Replacement of the Portal Bridge is a key step toward execution of this long-range plan.

Alpha 3 has been engaged on another project aligned with those goals—replacement of the lift elevators on the William A. Stickel Memorial Bridge. This vertical-lift bridge allows I-280 to cross the Passaic River, connecting Newark and Harrison, NJ. The massive bridge was named for Essex County civil engineer William Stickel and completed in 1949. It was declared to be “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete” in an assessment by NJ DOT in 2001. Since then, the department has engaged in numerous rehabilitation projects, including deck replacement, mechanical and electrical equipment replacement, and repainting. Agate Construction of Cape May Courthouse, NJ was recently retained to perform elevator replacements, and Alpha 3 will provide CPM scheduling. While the bridge may be “functionally obsolete” according to NJ DOT, we must work to keep it safe and operable until it is necessarily retired. When that day comes, we’ll be here to work on its replacement.

Alpha 3’s boots-on-the-ground experience in the utility and transportation markets in the region make us uniquely qualified for both tactical project execution and strategic consulting—from delivery model selection to risk analysis to dispute resolution. Alpha 3 holds one or more certifications as a DBE/SBE/WBE with agencies including the State of New Jersey, NJ Transit, and PANYNJ. For over 15 years, we have been committed to transit-oriented development, community engagement, diversity, equity, inclusion, and sustainability to ensure that public investments are well-aligned with the needs of the end users now and for generations to come.