NJ governor: Trump’s approval of Portal Bridge replacement a ‘huge victory’

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Monday said President Donald Trump’s approval of the Portal Bridge project is a huge victory for the state and for the region.

Murphy and his wife, Tammy Murphy, had dinner with Trump Friday night at his golf club in Bedminster. After the dinner, Trump tweeted that they “talked about many things” including getting New Jersey back to work and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. Trump tweeted about the Portal Bridge, “I have given authorization to proceed!”

Murphy thanked the president at his daily press briefing on Monday.

“This is a tremendous bit of good news for our state, our commuters, and our building trades,” Murphy said. “This project is critical to our long-term economic health, not to mention the patience of hundreds of thousands of daily commuters who know all too well the headaches and delays that happen when the bridge fails.”

The 112-year-old bridge carries 450 Northeast Corridor trains per day over the Hackensack River. The bridge is a swing bridge that sits on a pedestal in the river. A motor moves it sideways to open instead of lifting up and down like a drawbridge does. Federal law says the bridge has to open for commercial tugboats and barges using the Hackensack River because river traffic has the right-of-way over trains. The bridge has to be opened for boats or its owner, Amtrak, gets fined. But sometimes the rails don’t lock back in place when the bridge closes, and occasionally maintenance workers have to bang the rails back in place with sledgehammers to close them. Once the rails are lined up, the signals have to work to tell trains it’s safe to cross. Sometimes those signals don’t work and train traffic can’t move until they’re fixed. In recent years, commuters have been stuck on trains for hours waiting for the Portal Bridge to be closed properly.

Murphy said he was able to make the case to the president directly for the funding for the bridge replacement, and said the project is crucial to the Gateway Program that will add two more tunnels for trains under the Hudson River. “Replacing the Portal Bridge is a key piece of the broader Gateway Program and we will not stop until we build the tunnels, build the resiliency, and build out the capacity that our state and region needs,” Murphy said.

“The commitment from the president that the $800 million federal share can move forward without delay means we can get more shovels in the ground,” Murphy said. “The portal bridge replacement means roughly 15,000 jobs, overwhelmingly high paying, good-paying union jobs and it remains a big step in creating the safe, modern, reliable infrastructure our state and our region need.”

The tweets from Trump and comments from Murphy also raise questions. The president does not control funding for such projects. The power lies with Congress. But Trump’s tweets could signal he won’t stand in the way of the project. He has previously been reluctant to back federal funding for large projects in the New York region, including the replacement of the Hudson River rail tunnels.