Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Port Authority Announces Major Renovations For George Washington Bridge Approaches

The Port Authority had previously announced its intention to replace all of the George Washington Bridge's stringers (the vertical suspenders that attach the roadway decks to the suspension cables) as part of its 5-year capital plan. Today, it has announced several projects that also affect the bridge and the hundreds of thousands of people who use the bridge on a daily basis.

For starters, the $1 billion stringer replacement project is getting $20 million for planning. However, that's the warmup for a host of other projects affecting the span and its approaches.
The agency’s Board of Commissioners has taken action to facilitate the intensive bridge rehabilitation program. The Board’s actions included a project to rehabilitate the 178th and 179th Street and bus ramps, planning work for the rehabilitation of the Center Avenue and Lemoine Avenue bridges, and planning for rehabilitation work on the bridge’s lower level. The investments approved today cost an estimated $230 million; ultimately, the three projects are estimated to cost between $460 and $480 million.

In addition to these projects, the Board authorized a $20 million planning project in December 2011 to replace the George Washington Bridge’s steel suspender ropes. That project is anticipated to cost between $1 and $1.2 billion and is projected to generate nearly 4,000 jobs and more than one billion in economic activity.

“The George Washington Bridge is the busiest crossing in the world and represents the most critical connector of commerce in the Northeast region,” said Port Authority Chairman David Samson. “Maintaining this iconic structure goes to the heart of the Port Authority’s mission, both as an engine of economic growth and as a provider of the region’s most important infrastructure.”

“These projects are core to the mission of the Port Authority of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure that will ensure the efficient, safe movement of people and goods in the New York New Jersey region,” said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye. “These are important assets to the Port Authority, and as stewards of the public’s infrastructure we must maintain and preserve them for future generations.”

Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni said, “Every day, more than 300,000 people use this bridge to get to work, to shop or to visit friends on both sides of the Hudson. In 2010 alone, the bridge handled some 102 million vehicles on its two levels, toll plazas and toll lanes. It is critical therefore that we invest in this program to ensure this vital asset for the region continues to serve the region for years to come.”

Recent engineering studies have indicated that the 178th and 179th Street ramps, two associated bus ramps and the bus connector ramp structure that links these elevated areas must be rehabilitated. The street ramps were built in 1931 and last underwent a comprehensive rehaliltation more than 20 years ago. The bus ramps and associated connector ramp were built in 1958 and last had work on them in the late 1980s. The work on these ramps is projected to cost $218.8 million and is estimated to create 1,013 jobs, $72 million in wages, and $334 in economic activity.
The 178th and 179th Street ramps and the associated bus ramps are located on the Manhattan side of the bridge, while the Center Avenue and Lemoine Avenue overpasses are on the New Jersey side.

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The bridge will also undergo lead abatement and repainting on the lower level and other structural and functional repairs.

Yet, the Port Authority is not going to tackle the issue of lengthy delays caused by backups due to insufficient numbers of cash lanes that thwart users of EZ Pass from getting through in a more timely and efficient manner (to say nothing of the pollution due to the idling of hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks on a daily basis).

One consideration might be to make the Lower Level accessible only to vehicles with EZ Pass, rather than trying to back up traffic unnecessarily. It's a low-cost alternative to other efforts, and the benefits outweigh the potential costs. Traffic would flow more smoothly, though cash-customers might complain about being stuck in the same traffic flow as the trucks. Of course, the response to those customers should be to get EZ-Pass to avoid having those kinds of delays. Reducing the congestion would increase economic activity throughout the region.

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