New Jersey river restrictions aim to ease Portal Bridge stress, commuting trouble

SECAUCUS, New Jersey (WABC) -- Senator Bob Menendez announced new restrictions Friday on the Hackensack River aimed at easing the stress on the Portal Bridge.

Under the Coast Guard order, all marine traffic on the Hackensack River that requires Amtrak's Portal Bridge in Kearny to open has been halted between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., with only limited exceptions due to tidal restrictions and with a minimum two hours' notice.

Menendez made the request with Senator Cory Booker and Governor Phil Murphy, followed by Amtrak, after two separate bridge failures on October 30 during the morning and evening commutes.

Those bridge failures creating a commuting nightmare and forced the delay and cancellation of 164 New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains, affecting more than 155,000 passengers.

"Taking this significant step will help alleviate pressure on the Portal Bridge, restore some reliability to the system, and-most importantly-give riders some peace of mind," Menendez said. "Every time the Portal Bridge fails, the disruptions spread across our transportation system faster than the plague. And it's that much worse when the Portal Bridge fails during peak hours, when the number of people traveling the Northeast Corridor is at its highest. This is a win for commuters as we continue work towards our ultimate goal-the replacement of the Portal Bridge and completion of the Gateway Project."

The senator noted that the 108-year-old rail span failed to properly close five separate times this past year, causing major disruptions.

"New Jersey commuters are regularly subjected to train delays because they travel across the 108-year-old Portal Bridge every day," Booker said. "I'm pleased the Coast Guard has taken steps to reduce marine traffic and in turn, reduce chances for further delay. However, we know that commuters will not get the relief they deserve until this bridge is replaced - which is why I'm so grateful for Senator Menendez's partnership in fighting for the critical Gateway Program."

The Coast Guard restriction on marine traffic during peak rush hours has a limited exception due to tidal restrictions. It remains in effect for six months and can be extended.

"The U.S. Coast Guard's decision to further limit bridge openings during peak traffic hours will go a long way toward reducing malfunctions and providing New Jersey commuters with faster and more reliable service," Murphy said. "We thank the Coast Guard for their cooperation as partners, and we continue to call on the Trump Administration to step up and provide the Federal funding we need to build the Gateway project now."

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