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Portal Bridge Deserves Our Respect Not Scorn

Aug 28, 2022
Portal Bridge Ground Breaking Elected Official with Shovels

The Portal Bridge is an important part of the Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rail system, and it deserves our respect. On August 1, 2022, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Portal Bridge, called appropriately the North Portal Bridge because it will be located north of the current Portal Bridge. Your Harrison covered the groundbreaking in two articles: Large Turnout to the North Portal Bridge Groundbreaking and Portal Bridge Event: Who’s Who of Federal Government.

This week the Portal Bridge opened for maritime traffic and got stuck in the open position.  The phrase “stuck in an open position” is not fully descriptive of what causes trains to not be able to use the Portal Bridge.  When the bridge rotates to allow maritime traffic that is too high to go underneath it, the bridge rotates back but the precision in placing it back in the exact position so the rail lines precisely line up is the problem.  The bridge rotates back but the rails have to be precisely lined up for a train to go over them and not derail.  A special safety crew checks the bridge whenever it opens and closes.  An hour wait for an almost 112-old bridge is not too bad to ensure safety.  Maybe someone should just schedule an hour break in rail service that coordinates with the maritime use of the bridge.  This way nobody even notices the stoppage of train traffic.  The Portal Bridge deserves our respect after providing almost 112 years of rail service.

The Portal Bridge Almost 112 Years Old in Background

US Senator Cory Booker, Governor Phil Murphy and US Senator Robert Menendez in Foreground

Our latter statement leads us to reflect on what we stated in our prior article entitled Large Turnout for North Portal Bridge Ground Breaking.

“The other question that comes to mind is if it is so bad a bridge why did it take so long to finally get approvals to replace it?  Have we been playing with fire to delay replacing the Portal Bridge risking disruption of train services from Boston to Florida?  We think it is wise to talk about rebuilding the bridge to its glory years so we keep the bridge’s morale up while we build its replacement.”

Statements like “the old span will finally be retired and torn down replaced by a brand new bridge that will take its place.” and the bridge destruction “cannot come quick enough” do not help the morale of the bridge or the NJ Transit workers who probably have an affinity for the bridge they so carefully get back into alignment. 

America tends to think that new is better than old. America talks about recycling and being green to help the environment.  Before Green was a catchphrase soda and milk bottles used to be returned to stores to be reused over and over again. We do not do that now. Why not?; Appliances including stoves and refrigerators were built to last a lifetime saving our landfills from being filled with discarded appliances and their effect on the environment. Homes were built not with plywood or engineered {glued wood pieces) lumber but with seasoned wood that lasted hundreds of years. Why do we tear down perfectly sound buildings to build new homes when we could provide incentives to demo the inside and use that structure to build modern electric, plumbing, and heating systems to provide modern convenience? Retrofitting existing buildings would help the environment.

We asked in our prior article on the Portal Bridge whether the new North Portal Bridge would last 100 years.  We implied we doubted it.  We learned later that the Portal Bridge was designed and built to last 100 years.  Well, it did last that long.  It continues to serve a vital function its builders set out for it to do.  Let us phrase in public statements when the Portal Bridge opens for maritime traffic that it is being reviewed by professionals from NJ Transit to ensure the safety of the public because the Portal Bridge has been serving the community for over 100 years and needs some assistance in lining up its rails.  When you get to be 100 years old will you need someone to line up your rails?  We urge everyone to be patient and understanding as the Portal Bridge continues to serve an important role in our state's transportation system.

We also think that the Portal Bridge should NOT be torn down to make money for the scrap metal business.  The bridge should be rehabbed and the alignment of the bridge corrected and any components that need maintenance or to be replaced be done.  The cost of doing so will be a great investment because the bridge can be used as a public space and as a backup bridge when the new North Portal Bridge needs to be repaired or if there is an emergency mandating a secondary rail line.  Let us respect those who built a bridge that is celebrating 112 years of its existence this year..  By doing so we respect ourselves.

The Harrison Redevelopment Agency and the Port Authority of NJ/NY failed to build into the design of the New Harrison Path Station, the long-serving Pennsylvania Railroad / Path Harrison Station that was built around the same time as the Portal Bridge.  It was instead torn down. An opportunity to honor the contributions of the past with a retrofit of the old Harrison Path Station was lost.  We guarantee that the new Harrison Path Station will not last as long as the old Harrison Path Station.  To learn more about the Pennsylvania Railroad / Path Harrison Station read our article TBT: The Original Pennsylvania Railroad / Harrison Path Station.

What are your thoughts on keeping the Portal Bridge?  What’s your opinion on whether the Harrison Redevelopment Agency and Port Authority missed an opportunity to honor those who built the system they now operate? Let Us Know Your Thoughts on our Community Discussion Board.  If you have not signed up yet to participate you can Sign Up now.