The Bayonne Bridge – plans to raise the roadway and lift the economy



Joann Papageorgis, program director of the Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Program, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, New Jersey, US



The Bayonne Bridge opened to traffic in 1931, and for more than 80 years has provided vehicular access between Bayonne, New Jersey and Staten Island, New York. Designed by Othmar Ammann, the 1,675 foot steel arch span was the longest in the world at the time and remained so for 46 years. In 1985, the American Society of Civil Engineers designated it a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The Bayonne Bridge spans the Kill Van Kull, a critical shipping channel servicing Port Newark, Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminal and Howland Hook Marine Terminal. These terminals contribute to the Port of New York and New Jersey’s designation as the busiest port on the eastern seaboard, with 40 percent of east coast container imports, serving the robust consumer market of the Northeast, as well as the industrial Midwest and eastern Canada. Annually, The Port of New York supports more than 280,000 jobs, $11.2 billion in personal income and more than $36 billion in business income in the region.

Recently, the Bayonne Bridge’s navigational clearance of 151 feet has raised concerns among maritime, shipping and industry representatives about the clearance limitation, future planning and introduction of larger vessels, due to the planned expansion of the Panama Canal scheduled for completion in 2014. An additional increase in trade is also expected from South East Asia and the Indian subcontinent through the Suez Canal. The Panama Canal expansion will allow for larger ships to access the region, most of which currently cannot pass under the Bridge.

This clearance limitation is likely to cause a reduction of port competitiveness and diversion of cargo to other East Coast ports. The future use of larger, newer post-Panamax vessels is expected to reduce environmental impacts, lower shipping costs, provide economies of scale, and offer potential benefits in overall transportation costs to regional, and to national and international customers. Removal of the existing clearance restriction is crucial to maintaining the port’s position as the third largest port in the country, and assuring continued regional economic growth and development.

Finding solutions

To address these concerns, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey authorized $1 billion dollars and fast tracked the planning, regulatory review, preliminary and final engineering design, and ultimately construction of a solution to resolve the existing clearance restriction. In August 2009, the Port Authority initiated preliminary environmental alternatives analysis and conceptual engineering studies to evaluate a wide range of alternatives to address the clearance restriction. These alternatives included bridge modifications, such as raising the roadway, jacking the arch and conversion of the main span into a lift bridge operation, as well as a new bridge or tunnel replacement alternatives, and removal of the bridge in its entirety and replacement with either ferry service or alternate site expansion.

In December 2010, the Port Authority announced ‘Raise the Roadway’ as the best alternative to expedite the removal of the clearance restriction, control costs, and minimize environmental, neighborhood, and navigational impacts. Raise the Roadway will not necessitate any property acquisition or displacements, it will preserve the iconic, historic arch, maintain the navigational channel operations, and improve vehicular conditions by providing 12 foot lanes, a median safety divider, shoulders, widened walkway and bikeway, and the potential for a future transit corridor.

The Port Authority’s innovative engineering design approach will also allow the higher suspended roadway to be constructed within the structure of the arch, while the lower, existing suspended roadway deck remains open to traffic, and will not necessitate a full bridge closure. This unique approach will expedite construction and minimize impacts to our customers, the community, and the traveling public. Rather than demolishing and replacing the Bayonne Bridge, we are expediting our efforts to rehabilitate, retrofit, and reuse the historic bridge arch structure and incorporate functional and design improvements for the future.


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