Work on New Jersey's $1.8-billion Portal North Bridge construction project, decades in the making to replace a 110-year-old link on a key northeast U.S. rail line, is set to take five years and begin at the end of 2021—bolstered by official federal approval on Jan. 13 of a $766.5-million grant.

An NJ Transit spokesperson says the agency released invitations to bid Jan. 14 to build for replacement for the troublesome two-track moveable swing-span railroad bridge over the Hackensack River, with bids due in the spring and contract award in the fall. 

Portal North Bridge, a key crossing on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line that NJ Transit shares, will be a fixed span two-track bridge that officials expect will eliminate often lengthy delays for the national and state carriers when the current bridge remains stuck when raised for watercraft.

The current bridge, owned and operated by Amtrak, is considered to be the busiest in the nation with an estimated 200,000 rail passengers passing each day on 450 train cars, says Amtrak spokesperson Jason Abrams.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved the $766.5 million Full Funding Grant Agreement, which was a part of the total federal share. In December, NJ Transit and  FTA approved the agreement which calls for the Federal Highway Administration to pay $57.1 million, New Jersey $811 million and Amtrak $261.5 million.  The project received a Record of Decision from the Federal Railroad Administration in 2013, which FTA adopted in 2017.

NJ Transit CEO President Kevin Corbett signed the agreement with  FTA Jan. 14. “Executing the full funding grant agreement marks a key milestone in our efforts to replace this critical yet unreliable 110-year-old bridge," he said.

The North Portal bridge is part of the Gateway program, whicjh also is set to include replacement of the similarly-aged and deteriorating rail tunnels under the Hudson River that carry traffic into New York City and north, an estimated $12 to $13 billion project the Trump Administration opposed.

“With construction of a new bridge, we’ll eliminate one of the most-frustrating chokepoints in the entire Northeast Corridor, improving commutes for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said after the agreement was signed. "I look forward to working alongside President-elect Biden and his team to ensure the full Gateway Program is delivered, including new tunnels under the Hudson River.”  .

The current Portal Bridge is scheduled to remain in service during construction. The new span will be elevated to more than 50 ft above the water and span nearly 2.5 miles of the Northeast Corridor.

In February 2020, FTA raised the rating on the bridge to medium-high, which made it eligible for federal funding, and President Donald Trump approved the project in June with Murphy.