KEARNY – President Joe Biden brought his push for his infrastructure plan to New Jersey on Monday, touting a recently jumpstarted $2 billion project to replace a century-old rail bridge that has been a regular source of train delays for the region and beyond.

The Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, which connects New Jersey to New York and points north and south, was built during the Taft administration and was considered state of the art at the time, Biden said.

"Now, it's been called something different: a choke point, a bottleneck, an Achilles heel of the entire Northeast corridor," Biden said.

The bridge swings open to allow boats to pass underneath but occasionally gets stuck and needs to be closed manually, sometimes by sledgehammer. Pre-pandemic, nearly 200,000 people and 450 trains crossed the bridge each day, and delays there can ripple up and down from Boston and Washington, D.C.

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For riders, "the approach to the Portal Bridge often comes with a crossing of fingers, maybe a prayer" that things go smoothly, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said before Biden's remarks.

The project was designed and received environmental approvals several years ago but languished while New York and New Jersey officials squabbled with the Trump administration over dividing up the costs between the states and the federal government. It received approvals from the Biden administration earlier this year and is fully funded, and will take roughly five years to complete.

The bridge is part of the Gateway project, a broader effort to modernize and increase rail service in the New York metro region and which also includes a plan to build a new, $10 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River and expand New York's Penn Station. New Jersey Transit and Amtrak are leading the project.

An infrastructure bill would help fund those projects and others, New Jersey Transit CEO Kevin Corbet said.

"We're the center of global commerce and capitalism, yet we're relying on late 1800s and early 1900s infrastructure, so that'll really allow projects like the tunnel and Penn expansion to happen," he said.

Biden appeared Monday at the site of one of New Jersey's most ignominious infrastructure fails in recent years, the flooding of New Jersey Transit's rail maintenance facility during Superstorm Sandy. Rather than move hundreds of rail cars and locomotives to a different location in advance of the storm, NJ Transit left them in the low-lying area near the Hackensack River, causing more than $100 million in damage.

(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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