PANYNJ moves ahead with Goethals replacement and other big Staten Island toll bridge projects

May 16, 2013

2013-05-15: The Port Authority New York New Jersey (PANYNJ) authorized large contracts for improvements to the three NY-NJ toll bridges on Staten Island at their latest board meeting. The biggest, the Goethals Bridge replacement, will be done under a design-build-finance-maintain (DBFM) 40-year availability payments contract with NYNJ Link Partnership consisting of Macquarie Infrastructure & Real Assets (MIRA) 90% equity share and Kiewit Development 10% equity.

Work on the $1.5 billion project is due to start at the end of this year.

This is PANYNJ's first new bridge in 80 years.

A presentation to the auhority board called the move a "refocus on core mission," an allusion to the criticism that the PANYNJ's controversial involvement in fancy real estate development in lower Manhattan (the World Trade Center area) has been a mistake and a distraction from its true 'mission.'

Other major contracts approved at the same PANYNJ board meeting include:

- a $743m construction contract with a joint venture of Skanska Koch and Kiewit to rebuild the deck of the Bayonne Bridge at 215ft, 65m above sea level, 64ft, 20m higher than now allowing larger ships to use the port of Newark. Project cost will be $1.29b with construction start imminent this summer for removal of the big ship obstacle achieved 2015Q4 and completion 2017Q2.

-  pavement replacement of the Outerbridge Crossing with a construction contract of $13m, project cost $24m

First new bridge in 80 years

The Goethals contract will build a spectacular modern bridge greatly enhancing traffic flow on the vital I-278 vital route between the New Jersey Turnpike and northern Staten Island and, via the MTAB&T's Verrazano Bridge, to Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island.  The new bridge will be built immediately south right alongside the old which will then be cut up for scrap.

75k AADT on 42' deck

The Goethals Bridge generated $131.8m in toll revenues in 2011 the last year for which the PANYNJ has published data. Operating costs were $24.7m so it is a good money spinner for the authority.  

75,000 annual average vehicles per day use the present bridge of which about 7,500 are heavy trucks.

Traffic has been on a slight downward trend for ten years or more at the Goethals Bridge as at most crossings in the NY-NJ region.

But the 85 year old steel truss Goethals Bridge would probably be inadequate if traffic was halved. It has two roadways just 21 feet, 6.4m wide curb to concrete median barrier, providing lanes only 10'6" or 3m wide with no median or shoulder at all. Big trucks often 8'6", 2.59m wide not including mirrors have barely a foot (30cm) clearance either side when perfectly centered in their lane.


The new bridge design provides two roadway decks of 48ft, 14.6m each or 2.3x the existing deck. That allows three full 12ft, 3.66m travel lanes and shoulder. Lead engineer for the Macquarie Kiewit design is Parsons Transportation out of New York. It is two separate spans putting each direction of roadway between a pair of splayed towers - a totally different design from that which HNTB and Figg Engineering provided for the PANYNJ in 2010. That had just two towers forming an interesting triangle-inverted frame with both directions of roadway hung from the single pair of towers.

An official told us the Parsons design is more cost-effective and more readily constructed and the twin spans provide redundancy. It also avoids Pt Mann-type ice drop problems by having all cables away from the bridge deck.

The HNTB/Figg design did provide more deck width, but to make use of the deck beyond 2x3 lanes would only be possible with widening of the Staten Island Expressway (SIE). Both designs allow for two central lanes for bus rapid transit in the future.

Major constraint on the engineering is the maximum tower height of 272ft, 83m above sea level set to protect takeoff and landing flightpaths of planes using nearby Newark Airport.

The new bridge will have an approximate 900ft, 275m main span versus the old truss main span of 672ft, 205m, but the water clearance over the Arthur Kill waterway remains at the established 135ft, 41m.

Three years in procurement

The PANYNJ procurement process was slow. The request for information was issued almost exactly three years ago at which time the PANYNJ said there would be an RFP in the first quarter of 2011 and selection of the DBFM contractor before the end of 2011, and construction to start in 2012.

The Macquarie-Kiewit proposal competed with proposals from groups called Metro Bridge Partners and Goethals Bridge Development Group.

A PANYNJ spokesman says the winning proposal was the lowest cost.

The PANYNJ puts up $363m, the DBFM contractor NYNJ Link Partnership  about $1,140m taking on PAB and TIFIA bonds.

The toller is not releasing a copy of the draft contract. He said commercial close is scheduled for July and financial close late October and the contract will then be public.

Despite the delayed procurement the new bridge opening has not been pushed back much. The Kiewit-Macquarie team promise substantial completion in four years - service commencement December 2016 and end of the major works December 2017.

Construction contractor is a Kiewit, Weeks, Massman Joint Venture.

Macquarie's MIRA fund will be responsible for bridge maintenance over 40 years.

PA retains T&R risk, bridge operations

Operations including toll systems, toll setting and traffic and revenue risk is entirely with the PANYNJ. The new Goethals' toll business operation will be managed just like that of the other three toll bridges and two toll tunnels.

PANYNJ will separately contract for an all-electronic toll system on a gantry needed by 2017.

P3 terminology: the Goethals project is being called a public private partnership (P3). It could perhaps be called an availability payments P3 except operation of the bridge is excluded from the contract.

We were recently told a toll operation with a state appointed board of directors, state maintenance and operations and no private equity was a public private partnership.

Where was the 'private' part of the P3 we asked?

Answer: "The subscribers to our bonds are our private partners."

We thought: "That does it. This P3 term has been stretched to the point of meaninglessness. Let's leave it to the spinmeisters."

If sale of longterm bonds to the private sector makes a P3 then of course every government owned toll facility in the country becomes a P3. Come to think the United States Government with all those trillions of Treasury bonds out there in private hands is a P3.

We'll revert to the old acronyms DBB (design bid build), DB (design build), DBFM, DBFOM, and the term 'toll concession' where the contractor owns the whole toll business and takes the traffic and revenue risk for the term of the contract.

QUESTION: since the drive to heighten the shipping clearance at the Bayonne Bridge comes from shippers who will benefit by the ability to use larger ships why won't they pay 'tolls' to travel under the rebuilt bridge and help pay for what benefits them.

Truckers and other motorists get a slightly widened deck but otherwise the main change they'll see is a longer, higher climb and more fuel consumed. Yet motorists are expected to pay for a benefit to the martime trade!

That's a government agency in favor trading mode, being inequitable as well as practising bad economics.

An argument for private investor ownership of a toll bridge like the Bayonne is that those in charge would be more likely to say to the container ship companies and the port: "Our motorist customers are quite happy with the bridge as it is at 150ft, 46m. If you want greater clearance for higher ships we're happy to discuss that so long as you accept a responsibility for helping pay most of the cost." - editor.

when RFI went out May 13 2010:

TOLLROADSnews 2013-05-15

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