EIS Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Why was an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared
for the Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement Project?
The Portal Bridge is almost 100 years old and no longer functionally suitable for efficient rail operations in the Northeast Corridor. Given these bridge limitations, the EIS evaluated different alternatives for replacing or improving it. The alternative selected best met current and future rail transportation needs while minimizing adverse social, economic, and environmental effects.
What are the Portal Bridge’s current limitations? At present, the total bridge length is 960 feet with a swing span length of 300 feet, and has only 23 feet of clearance between mean high water (MHW) and the lowest steel elevation of the bridge. As a result, bridge openings are required to allow most marine vessels navigating the Hackensack River to pass through. The lengthy amount of time that is required to open and close the bridge for marine traffic interferes with both rail and marine operations. Also, frequent bridge openings increase the likelihood of mechanical malfunctions, which have caused the bridge to remain in the open position for inordinately long periods of time, causing system-wide delays in train service.
Is the bridge safe? The bridge is safe, but it requires ongoing costly maintenance and repairs. These can be viewed as interim solutions. However, increasing rail traffic and service improvements along the Northeast Corridor will further stress the aging structure’s condition and may not be able to support future transportation demand.
What is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process? Where are we now? The EIS process is mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and is intended to ensure that a project considers consequences as part of the project planning process. The process involves scoping, a Draft EIS (DEIS), followed by a Final EIS (FEIS). Public involvement is critical throughout the entire process. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) oversaw the entire EIS process and the resulting final environmental document for the Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement Project. The DEIS was published in February 2008 with the public comment period ending in March. The FEIS was published in August and the Record of Decision (ROD) was received in December.
Why did the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) direct the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)? As the federal agency responsible for national rail transportation policy and railroad safety, the FRA also oversees Amtrak’s discretionary capital programs; Amtrak owns the Portal Bridge and most of the Northeast Corridor infrastructure.
What alternatives did the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) consider? The range of preliminary alternatives identified in the Scoping Document included a combination of rehabilitation bridge options; replacement bridge options; or reasonable alternatives that were identified by the public during the scoping process for the DEIS. The DEIS will evaluated a “No Action” alternative, which considers what future conditions in the Northeast Corridor might be if no project is undertaken to rehabilitate or replace the Portal Bridge in addition to four build alternatives. All four alternatives included the construction of a new three-track fixed bridge north of the current Portal Bridge. The build alternatives varied on two design components: a southern bridge constructed on the existing or a new southern alignment; and a duck-under or fly-over track configuration west of the Hackensack River.
What is the Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement Project’s relationship to the THE Tunnel project? Under the umbrella of Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) study, THE Tunnel project involves the construction of a new passenger rail station underneath 34th Street (near New York’s Penn Station), a two-track tunnel under the Hudson River, a connection allowing for a one-seat ride to New York City for passengers on the Main and Bergen and Pascack Valley lines and additional improvements that will allow NJ TRANSIT to increase its rail capacity and improve service. The Portal Bridge complements the ARC project by addressing a crucial bottleneck along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) at the Hackensack River. The five tracks crossing the river will not only increase capacity, it will increase security and safety by providing redundant crossings while maximizing the NEC throughput.
How was the public be involved in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process? The first formal opportunity for public involvement was the scoping process, held in January 2007, where the public was encouraged to provide the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) with comments on issues related to the project that should be addressed in the Draft EIS (DEIS). Following the scoping process, the public continued to provide input throughout the EIS process. Public hearings and open houses were held to solicit comments on the DEIS in March of 2008. In addition, a Regional Citizens’ Liaison Committee (RCLC) was created to provide the opportunity for community members to have input. The RCLC met a total of 5 times throughout the EIS process. Project information, including updates, was also be available to the public on this website and in periodic newsletters and press releases. Following completion and issuance of the DEIS, comments, suggestions and other information gathered at the public hearings were addressed in the Final EIS (FEIS).