Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday announced his support for the modernizing of the Bayonne Bridge that links the southern Hudson County city to Staten Island by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
The governor described the project as a vital infrastructure investment and critical to his administration's economic development and job creation efforts. He said raising and improving the bridge is essential to maintaining port access to the ports of Newark and Elizabeth for the next generation of larger shipping vessels, and the economy of the state.
Christie said regional port activity supports approximately 269,000 jobs, provides $11.2 billion in personal income and producing $36.1 billion in business income annually.
"We must ensure that our ports remain viable tools for economic growth," the governor said. "By fixing this crucial nexus in the region's transportation network, it will allow our port to remain competitive with others on the East Coast and allow for future cargo growth and expanded commercial opportunities for business.
"In the end, this means more jobs and opportunity for our citizens and improved economic activity for the state and region, generally. Any remedy to the Bayonne Bridge issue, however, must be one that is both financially sound and environmentally safe and I fully endorse the steps the Port Authority is taking to move this project toward a permanent resolution."
While seeing the bridge project as financially sound, Christie has halted, at least for 19 more days, work on another project in which the Port Authority is involved, the Hudson commuter rail tunnel, while he reviews the potential cost to New Jersey.
To accommodate the new generation of containerships that will use New Jersey ports after the Panama Canal widening is completed in 2015, the navigational clearing limitation of the Bayonne Bridge must be rectified. Current clearance is 151 feet.
The Port Authority handles 40 percent of eastern seaboard trade, of which 58 percent directly benefits the surrounding region. In 2009, the dollar value of all cargo handled totaled more than $146 billion.
"Today's announcement is part of two very important initiatives of the Christie administration — job creation and ensuring our regional competitiveness," Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said. "The jobs we are investing in today will encourage employment growth for tomorrow as we continue to work to improve our international import and export capabilities."
Port Authority Chairman Anthony R. Coscia said, "Our job is to make sure that the region's port remains the leading destination for international shippers and the catalyst for regional economic and job growth. Our $1 billion commitment to solve the Bayonne Bridge problem speaks to the importance we place on our port business and the tremendous regional benefits it provides."
Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Chairman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex) said he welcomes Christie's focus on the bridge clearance problem and job creation, especially considering New Jersey's unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.
"Many people have long recognized the Bayonne Bridge's vital role as a job creation engine, and have been working to fix this problem for a long time," Coutinho said. "I hope Governor Christie continues focusing more on job creation, especially for working class New Jerseyans suffering under his de facto tax increases."
After holding a full hearing on the issue with industry leaders earlier this year, Coutinho sponsored a legislative resolution urging officials to quickly address the concerns.
"...We must follow through and get this job done, not toy around with the money and make mistakes as we've seen the administration do with other projects," Coutinho said. "I cannot emphasize enough that we must get this fix done for the good of our economy and our workers."
The bridge Kill Van Kull also links Newark Liberty International Airport, Port Newark/Elizabeth and Howland Hook Marine Terminal. Approximately 7 million vehicles cross the bridge annually.
In addition to the bridge project, officials maintain that a series of recent acquisitions and commitments made by the Port Authority will keep New Jersey's ports and the region competitive by stimulating future economic growth and development activity. These projects include the acquisition of 130 acres at Marine Ocean Terminal in Bayonne and the 98-acre Global Marine Terminal at Port Jersey as well as the recently purchased for redevelopment Greenville Yards in Jersey City.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM