JERSEY PORTS:Newark-Jersey City projects

July 4, 1998

JERSEY PORTS:Newark-Jersey City projects

Originally published in issue 29 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Jul 1998.


Subjects:new roads environmentalism

Facilities:Portway Bergen Arches Trans-Bay Tunnel Depressed Highway NJ-139 US 1&9

Agencies:NJDOT NJTA NYC Eco Dev

Locations:Jersey City Hudson Co NJ

Sources:Bob James Brett Schundler Grimm Cheryl Munley-Allen

Brett Schundler the youthful mayor of Jersey City took to a lectern in front of a battery of TV cameras on Palisade Avenue bridge over the old Bergen Arches railroad right of way, a place from which there are spectacular views of the Hudson River waterfront and the skyscrapers on the tip of Manhattan, just 2 mi east, Monday noon July 13 a gorgeous summer day and said: “This is a project to double east-west roadway capacity between northern New Jersey and the Hudson River waterfront and Manhattan. We have done a lot of fixing things up the past few years and we’ve repaved and repainted, and we’ve got to do more. But it is also high time we expanded road capacity east-west. We’ve got 4-lanes (of expressway) and we need 8-lanes. This project (Bergen Arches) will give us the extra 4-lanes we need.”

There were a bunch of heavyweight US politicians there too, amiable, cynical hardbitten oldtimers senators Frank Lautenberg (who could have been Schundler’s grandfather), and Torricelli and Rep Menendez and county execs, and a caricature union spiv who talked about the NJ “team” (the pols) “bringing home de bacon”. But on the project before them they all said the right and the politically safe things about how air quality would be improved and jobs created, but they all avoided speaking of the need for increased highway capacity, perhaps in deference to the enviro/transit lobby which in the New York area has made such talk nearly taboo. But not for Schundler.

“If we really want to avoid paving over the rural areas of the state and if we want to be successful in rebuilding and reviving our established urban areas then we have to have better highway connections. People are simply not going to come and live here and to create jobs here and to invest here if they have to fight their way through the congestion on our local streets. The only thing we have now is 4-lanes in the Depressed Highway (NJ-139). It isn’t enough, not nearly. The Bergen Arches, which will give us an extra 4-lanes. This is the Missing Link in our plans.”

The Arches so-called is an amazing opportunity, a valuable piece of abandoned infrastructure just lying idle since the railroad lines that it was built to handle were abandoned in the late 1950s. It is now growing weed trees and vines, 1280m (4200’) of tunnels and trench that once took 4 tracks of the Erie Railroad from the Meadowlands to the west through the southern end of the Palisades in Jersey City to the Hudson River at the Pavonia terminal, where ferries used to take people over to Canal St in lower Manhattan. An HNTB report on the Arches potential a couple of years ago for the NJ Turnpike said the tunnels (174m, 64m, 83m and 66m long) cut in the Palisades sandstone are in good condition. They are a minimum 17m (56’) wide just enough for 4-lanes plus median. They have an arched ceiling (hence the name Bergen Arches) 5m (16’) high at the sides up to 9m (29’6”) in the center. The open trench sections are almost sheer sandstone going 35m below ground level.

Six north-south Jersey City streets span the Arches, either over the 4 mini-tunnels or in the case of Palisade Av on a 3-lane concrete bridge. The facility parallels NJ-139, known locally as the Depressed Highway, just half a block south of itn except at the western end where NJ-139 jogs south over the top of the Arches to catch the southwest heading of the Pulaski Skyway. At this end the Arches and its old Railroad ROW continues heading northwesterly toward the Croxton railyards and the Meadowlands.

The Mayor who is promoting the Arches project and who got $26m toward it in the TEA21 highway bill sees it as primarily a road from the west into the Jersey City and Hoboken waterfront areas but he says it will also make life easier for people trying to get into New York City. At its eastern end the Arches project will cross over the westbound roadway and under the eastbound roadway of the Hudson Co Extension of the NJ Turnpike approaches to the portals of the Holland Tunnel and it will need a viaduct over the top of 11th Street to bring it down at reasonable grade to the splendid new boulevards of the Newport area by the water. It will also need various interchange ramps, but how many is undecided.

There are approx $2b of new highway projects being haggled over and designed by several authorities in northeastern NJ that all interact with one another:

— the $400m Bergen Arches

— the $300m Secaucus Interchange of the NJ Turnpike

— a $300m Portway project for improved truck roads tying together the ports, rail yards and warehouse areas of Elizabeth, Bayonne, Kearny and North Bergen

— a $250m rebuild of NJ-139 the Depressed Highway immediately north of the Bergen Arches

— reconstruction of congested intersections Tonnele and Charlotte Circles and the US 1 & 9 route north-south

— studies of a possible new freight tunnel under New York harbor Brooklyn to Bayonne NJ or to Staten Is

Cheryl Allen-Munley director of transp for Jersey City says the city is in discussion with the state and other agencies to try and hash out ways to ensure that the projects fit together and that local construction impacts are minimized.

Jersey City talks of $7.5b worth of new commercial and residential development along the waterfront, 65k new jobs in the area and 60k new apartments. Certainly an impressive start has already been made with the area already sprouting attractive new buildings with some of the wrold’s most spectacular city views. There’s a ton of non-highway transp — PATH subway, NJ Transit, ferries and a new light rail under way — but as invariably happens, a need for major road improvements as well. The HNTB report predicted 5.6k to 8k extra peakhour vehicles in the east-west corridor justifying the 4 extra mwy lanes.

The Arches project was originally NJ Turnpike but is now under the NJDOT. Though noone is ruling out tolls, they say they hope it can be financed with some mix of tax-$s and developer contributions, but time will tell. The NJ Turnpike’s Secaucus Interchange project is its western approach. It is not just an interchange but a small 2.4km (1.5mi) southeast heading spur off the eastern branch of the turnpike. The first set of designs have a new toll plaza right off the existing turnpike and connections to the Croxton rail transfer yards and Allied Junction developments nearby and a full set of ramps into US 1&9, a crowded surface arterial just near the western end of the Arches.


A further development is the Portway plan, a scheme in the very early conceptual stage but that already provides for a dedicated north-south truckway immediately west of US 1&9, designed to provide higher capacity connections between road-rail transfer yards, major warehouses and the many ship docks of Elizabeth and Newark.

At the NJ Turnpike Robert Grimm says he is in the process of discussing the eastern end of the Secaucus IC project now that the Bergen Arches and Portway projects have sprung to life. The Turnpike has its Corps of Engineers wetlands permit for the spur but should be able to make changes to the eastern end connections without upsetting that.

Ed Gross the exec-dir told us that it is unlikely the expensive Secaucus IC and spur project will be self-financing though it will increase toll revenues. The Secaucus IC spur off the Pike together with the Bergen Arches could form a connector to the turnpike’s approaches to the Holland Tunnel if the necessary ramps were installed at each end.

But there could be resistance to such connections among those who want to focus the Arches on providing Jersey-side access to the waterfront.

At present the Depressed Hwy (NJ-139) feeds traffic to the Holland Tunnel. That’s a late 1920s structure according to Henry Cole, NJDOT’s engineer in charge of reconstruction. The highway itself needs major rebuilding but even more the local streets which form partial roofs over it. One idea is to build the new Bergen Arches highway first and use it in its first year or so as a temporary substitute approach to the Holland Tunnel while the NJ-139 nearby is closed for more efficient traffic-free rebuilding.

Many of the roads in this area are reserved for light vehicles, to the immediate west the Pulaski Skyway a wonderful long cantilever truss girder structure because of its inability to take heavy truck loads and the Holland Tunnel because of a 3.8m (12’6) ceiling. Lanes are narrow too.

It is unclear whether the Bergen Arches will be built for trucks, though if the city wants commerce to thrive on the waterfront there will be a need for improved truck access through the Palisades ridge. NJ-139 seems likely to remain light vehicles only.

Two major freight projects being developed in the area are the Portway, announced by NJ Gov Christie Whitman with great fanfare a few months ago, and a cross-harbor freight tunnel. The freight tunnel is the subject of a major investment study under USDOT rules with Edwards & Kelcey contracted to New York City’s Economic Develop Corp. It has been pushed mainly as a rail tunnel, from on the west side either (1) the Greenville rail yards in southern Jersey City 4km under the Bay, or (2) from the SIRR at St George 3km under the Bay. In either case the logical eastern portal would be at the LIRR yards in Brooklyn near where the Gowanus Exwy and the Shore Pwky connect. The cross-harbor tunnel is promoted in part by those wanting to get trucks off New York City streets and by others wanting to promote revival of port activity along the Brooklyn waterfront. And it is being pushed mainly railophiles. As a MIS the study is supposed to consider all alternates but it is unclear how seriously it will look at a truck tunnel. But given the short distances and small size of most freight consignments a truck tunnel could make much more sense than rail. But any cross Bay tunnel is a huge single investment, probably over $1b and seems a long shot.

The Portway project by contrast can be built in bits and pieces. It is propelled by the rapid growth of container traffic in the port and associated yards. It is the dominant container port of the east coast (though it does hardly a third the throughput of LA) but a lot of the freight in the area is domestically generated. The greater NY area remains clearly the number one ranking US metro area in population with 20m pop and Boston, Philadelphia and Washington within a few hours truck drive time. This is a large regional freight hub. Truck trips in the immediate northern NJ (NNJ) ports and warehousing area are presently 20k/day, and are projected by NJDOT to grow to 35k within 10 years. Freight analysts like Jim Blaze of Zeta-Tech predict that with the split-up of Conrail between CSX and NS rail container traffic in NNJ will grow from about 2k/day to somewhere in the range 8k to 11k/day. He sees the economics of double-stack rail as taking freight away from longdistance trucking in trips as short as NJ to the Carolinas and GA. But that would drastically increase short-haul trucking in and around the NJ ports area. Or if eastern NJ won’t accomodate the road/rail transfers he sees them being moved west into newly built intermodal transfer yards in places like Allentown and Harrisburg PA.

John Vickerman a leading ports consultant says ship-rail will grow rapidly but that despite this excitement ship-truck trnasfers will remain by far the largest way of handling containers in and out of most US ports.

NJDOT’s Portway project manager Bob James notes that with the economics of double-stack rail plus rail competition just arriving on the east coast, there’s both opportunity and challenge. Being the dominant port and distribution complex on the east coast the NNJ ports area has a huge natural advantage, but it has little spare capacity and its interconnections are old. Most of the roads and rail lines of the area have hardly been upgraded or added to since the 1920-1935 period and are horribly congested and inconvenient.

The largest part of Portway is a new truck bridge (estd $115m) over the Passaic River near its mouth at Newark Bay joining Newark’s Doremus Av with Central Av, Kearny, as part of progressive upgrades to truck routes north-south which would improve connections between the Newark port/airport area in the south and some 8 rail and 25 major trucking terminals generally north in the Meadowlands. The truck route would also open up unused land mainly in Kearny, for expanded container handling.

In addition the Portway concept involves improved connections eastward over Newark Bay from Port Elizabeth to Bayonne, in direct competition with the NJ Turnpike’s Newark Bay bridge route.

James says there are not yet any firm ideas about how the new bridges and truck routes should be funded but tolls or yard gate fees will be among the obvious options. As many as four possible new interchanges with the NJ Turnpike are shown on early maps of Portway, so the interactions between these projects and agencies will be intriguing to follow. (Contacts Bob James Portway NJDOT 609 530 2898, Cheryl Allen-Munley Bergen Arches Jersey City 201 547 6986, Jim Blaze freight analysis Zeta-Tech 609 779 7795, Bob Grimm NJ Turnpike Secaucus IC 732 247 0900 x 5242, Alice Chang NY City Bay Tunnel MIS 212 312 3783)

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