The Federal Transit Administration has cleared a project to
replace New Jersey Transit's aging and hurricane-damaged Raritan River Drawbridge, in a finding that allows the agency to start final design of a new structure for passenger and freight rail traffic.
NJ Transit said the FTA on Oct. 13 issued a
finding of no significant impact as part of the environmental review process, and officials expect to compete the design work by the end of 2018. The local agency will replace the century-old structure with a $446 million grant the FTA awarded in response to Hurricane Sandy.
Richard Hammer, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation and chairman of NJ Transit, said: "This project represents the kind of investments we are making in critical infrastructure that will help keep New Jersey both competitive and on the move."
Also called River Draw, the agency said the bridge that opened in 1908 is the sole rail link for 17 of the 20 stations on the North Jersey Coast Line to major job centers of Newark and Jersey City, N.J., and New York City. It carries almost 10,000 daily passengers, and 2 million tons of freight annually on Conrail.
Planners said that during the October 2012 hurricane and aftermath that was labeled a "superstorm," the bridge suffered structural damage when ocean surge moved the approach girder spans out of alignment on their supporting piers. NJ Transit plans to replace the existing two-track bridge with a new two-track structure on a parallel alignment to the west, and demolish the existing bridge.
The plan is to build a structure with features that would make it "significantly less vulnerable to severe weather events," NJ Transit said.
The FTA said the project will not alter the Raritan River navigation channel and no channel dredging will be required, while the new bridge will have its piers and associated fenders placed outside the navigation channel, creating a wider area for ship passage than now.
"Replacing River Draw will allow NJ Transit to continue to move customers to critical job centers and shore communities for years to come, without prolonged service disruptions related to severe weather events," said NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro.
NJ Transit describes itself as the nation's largest statewide public transportation system, with more than 944,000 weekday trips on 255 bus routes, three light rail lines, 12 commuter rail lines and a paratransit service. It adds that it is the third-largest transit system in the country with 166 rail stations, 62 light rail stations and more than 18,000 bus stops linking points in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.
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