Posted on November 24, 2020
Can the ports of Newark and Elizabeth overtake Los Angeles as the busiest port in the nation? Three bridge and road projects highlighted by Gov. Phil Murphy Tuesday to help cargo trucks move to and from the port might make it happen in the future.
The projects highlighted at a Tuesday event held at Port Newark are part of a larger $700 million road and bridge effort called Portway, intended to ease truck traffic in and out of the port and to reduce traffic back-ups on highways.
Most of the products and merchandise ordered online during the coronavirus pandemic when retail stores were closed likely came here through the port. Cargo traffic was the only aspect of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s operations that grew in 2020.
Murphy pitched the projects as necessary to move the record amounts of cargo that came through the port in 2019 and to keep up with other ports in the country competing for the same business.
“In these difficult times, we have a great deal to be thankful for – the record volumes make for good headlines and the job growth and growing economic impact associated with the ports is off the charts,” said Sam Ruda, Port Director for the authority, referring to high traffic volume in August and September.
But keeping cargo containers, motor vehicles and bulk commodities moving takes roads, bridges and rail infrastructure, including three projects highlighted Tuesday.
— Constructing a new Route 22 bridge over Chestnut Street, which carries traffic to the Port and Newark airport, will replace a deficient bridge built in 1929. One speaker at the event said when he was under the old bridge, he could “look up and see the sky” through it. Work on that $22.7 million federally-funded project started last month. It will have shoulders for the first time.
— Resurfacing and improving Route 27 between DeHart Place and Route 21. This $13 million project repaves and installs traffic signals and better crosswalks where needed at 33 intersections along this five-mile section of highway in Newark and Elizabeth. Bids for construction are scheduled to be taken in March with a late spring ground breaking .
— The biggest project is replacement of the $480 million new Route 7 Wittpenn Bridge over the Hackensack River which was started in Nov. 2011. The massive project to build a higher and wider drawbridge that doesn’t need to be opened as often was the 90-year old current bridge for boat traffic has been delayed from an original opening in 2019 to a spring opening to traffic.
The new Wittpenn Bridge includes work that’s part of the broader Portway project that includes construction of a two-mile connector road for Truck Route 1&9 and improvements to Fish House Road off Route 7 to improve traffic flow between the port and warehouses, Murphy said. There are 11 projects in Portway.
“These projects mean that cargo can get to and from here faster and easier and make New Jersey a bigger draw for shipping, so we can remain one of the nation’s more important ports,” Murphy said. “They will be part of the stronger and more modern infrastructure that fuels our states economic recovery.”
Murphy, flanked by Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, labor leaders representing port unions, the mayors of Newark and Bayonne and state lawmakers, said the port is essential to the state’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the investments are forward looking and bring more jobs to the city.
“It’s tremendous for us. Any improvement in infrastructure means more cargo and more business needs more workers,” he said. “It’s important for Newark because we have a direct relationship with the seaport with our workforce development office.”
In September, Port Authority officials said port traffic had recovered to the same record-breaking levels as 2019 and in October, the volume of cargo moved at the port grew slightly higher than 2019 levels.
“The DOT has invested hundreds of millions of dollars advancing projects in the port district that directly and indirectly support efficient movement of goods,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “There are many other projects in the pipeline to improve the ports.”
The success of the port was evident after it surpassed Long Beach California in 2019 as the second busiest port in the nation. The port of Los Angeles is currently the busiest in the nation.
“I’d say, L.A., look out,” Murphy said.