Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (in the public domain)
A $1.3 billion project to raise the Bayonne Bridge — which connects New Jersey with Staten Island — has been delayed at least six months as a result of last winter’s harsh weather, officials announced last week.
The project will increase the height of the bridge’s road platform 215 feet above the Kill van Kull in order to accommodate larger Panamax cargo container ships which will soon be traveling to the Port of New York and New Jersey thanks to the widening and deepening of the Panama Canal.
Up until now, these cargo container ships — most of which are coming from Asia — could only dock at West Coast ports. But with the Panama Canal improvements, ports up and down the East Coast are being deepened and undergoing other upgrades in anticipation of the bigger vessels.
Work Delayed Last Winter
Unfortunately, last winters bone-chilling temperatures and frequent winter storms has caused unavoidable setbacks on the Bayonne Bridge project, said Joann Papageorgis, bridge project manager for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“It wasn’t just snow,” Papageorgis told the website NJ.com. “We have cranes that can’t operate in heavy winds. Steel workers don’t work in the rain.”
The bridge raising now won’t be completed until summer of 2016. But a full restoration of the two lanes of traffic in each direction is still projected to be finished by 2017.
Quieter Nights, Longer Commuter Delays
Despite the delays, the project is still coming in on budget, which includes a $743 million contract with a consortium that includes Skahska Koch Inc. and Kiewit Infrastructure Company.
One side benefit of the delay is that much of the loudest work on the bridge will now shift to daytime hours rather than overnight, which should come as a relief to residents living near the construction site.
But the move also means that off-peak motorists traveling over the span could face longer delays, including intermittent “traffic holds” in either direction which can last up to 20 minutes. And in some instances, the entire bridge will need to be shut down in both directions between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis said he expects his constituents to be patient and understanding of the delays.
“We appreciate the effort to reduce nighttime noise,” Davis said in a statement. “We will continue to meet with the Port Authority, monitor th situation closely, and raise our residents’ concerns about the impact of the construction on Bayonne neighborhoods.”
A Race to Be First
The area’s shipping community would like to see the project completed as quickly as possible so that the port can be among the first on the East Coast to accept the larger, more financially lucrative cargo containers.
Panama voted by referendum in 2006 to improve the 100-year-old canal by deepening it, widening it and upgrading its locks and other facilities. When it is completed, Panamax ships — which have a 13,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) compared to standard cargo ships that typically max out at 5,000 TEUs — will be able to pass back and forth through the canal, which bisects the North and South American continents.
Currently, these super-sized ships had to use West Coast ports such as Long Beach, Portland or Seattle — which already have naturally deeper trenches to accommodate them — when transporting cargo to and from Asia.
East Coast ports such as Charleston, Savannah, Baltimore and even Philadelphia are preparing to welcome the gigantic cargo ships by deepening their trenches and upgrading their infrastructure. Even inland ports — such as those found in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Columbus — are preparing for an increase in cargo traffic as a result of the changes.