(TRENTON) — Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Albert Coutinho to emphasize the need to address the Bayonne Bridge’s low clearance and keep New Jersey’s port economy vibrant was approved 74-1 Thursday by the Assembly.
The Bayonne Bridge is too low to allow new super-sized cargo ships to reach Port Newark and Port Elizabeth. If the span isn’t updated, the regional economy will suffer from lost shipping trade, said Coutinho (D-Essex), chairman of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
Coutinho noted the ports provides more than 270,000 jobs, but said 50,000 jobs could be lost if the bridge problem isn’t fixed expeditiously.
“New Jersey could start losing business and jobs as these larger ships start using other ports,” Coutinho said. “That would be devastating to New Jersey’s economy, and that’s something we cannot let happen for the good of our businesses and workers. It’s a real possibility that 50,000 jobs are on the line here, so resolving this problem expeditiously is a must.”
Coutinho’s committee recently released the resolution after hearing from industry experts on the bridge and its limited functionality, especially after a project to widen the Panama Canal is completed in 2014 and larger ships can more easily reach the East Coast.
“Fixing this problem needs to be a top priority,” Coutinho said. “I cannot emphasize enough that we must get this job done for the good of our economy and our workers.”
The resolution urges the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to formulate engineering and funding solutions for the bridge. A recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report estimated it would take until 2019 to complete a $1.3 billion project to jack up the bridge from its current clearance of 151 feet above the Kill Van Kull to 215 feet. Other options such as building a new, taller bridge or constructing an underwater tunnel, but that work would take even longer and be more costly, the report said.
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