The Bayonne Bridge crosses one of the most heavily travelled waterways into the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Kill Van Kull. This tidal strait is located between Staten Island, NY and Bayonne, NJ, connecting Newark Bay with Upper New York Bay. It has been historically one of the most important waterways in the Northeast. Currently it provides passage for ocean freight container ships going to and from the busiest port in the Eastern US, Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal.
The Bayonne Bridge was originally built by the Port of New York Authority in 1931. It is currently the fourth longest steel arch bridge in the world. It was built to allow vehicles to travel from Staten Island, through the Holland Tunnel, and into Manhattan.
Today, it presents an obstacle for modern day giant ocean cargo ships. The bridge has a water clearance of 151-156 feet, depending on the tide. Currently, bigger ships must fold down masts, take on ballast, or wait for low tide to pass, in order to get under it.
When the Panama Canal Expansion is finished in 2014, it will allow passage of even larger, Post Panamax ships that will be headed for the East coast. The term "Post Panamax" refers to ships that are too large to fit through the Panama Canal. Many supertankers, the US Navy supercarriers, and modern ocean freight container ships are now classified as Post Panamax. They will want to go to Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal because other ports are too far away. This particular terminal location is preferable because it is very near the US's largest consumer market. Unloading here will significantly reduce the time and cost of shipping goods from different locations to the New York and New Jersey areas.
The problem is that the Bayonne Bridge is too low to allow Post Panamax ships to pass. It is estimated that the bridge is about 65 feet too low. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has recently pledged $1 billion to either replace or raise the Bayonne Bridge in preparation for the increased traffic and the addition of Post Panamax ocean freight ships to the mix. The preliminary estimates indicate that the cost of raising or replacing the bridge would result in favorable benefit to cost ratios.
"Our realistic options include lifting just the roadway itself, leaving the super-structure in place, creating a lift-bridge mechanism," Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey supports the plan and says, "We've met one of New Jersey's great economic challenges for our future. This industry will continue to remain a vital part of New Jersey's economy and this region's economy…for the foreseeable future."
Besides the Bayonne Bridge project, the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal is making other changes to prepare for the increase in ocean shipping traffic. The port has seen approximately a 65% increase in traffic volumes since 1998. Plans are in the works to spend billions of dollars implementing changes that would result in larger cranes, deeper channels, expanded wharves, and bigger railyard facilities.