It seems that the Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Program – the $1.4 billion dollar project that will raise the height of the bottom of the bridge span from 151 feet to 215 feet – has come under fire recently, primarily because of unclear prognostications about the project.
Last month, Coalition for Healthy Ports, along with two Staten Island-based organizations and the NRDC (the Coalition) filed a law suit questioning the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s (PANYNJ) assertions that the project will have a minimal impact on the overall volume of cargo handled by the Port of New York and New Jersey (PONYNJ). Of particular concern is the potential negative impact on air quality that might result if the impact is understated.
To understand the Coalition’s concerns, it is helpful to talk about the PANYNJ’s stated basis for the project.
The Bayonne Bridge connects Staten Island to New Jersey by passing over the Kill van Kull, the waterway that connects Newark Bay with New York Harbor. Currently, the bridge is 151 feet above the waterline – enough to handle most of the ships currently in the global fleet (called Panamax ships). However, with the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, ships are getting bigger (“Post-Panamax” ships) hence the need to increase the Bayonne Bridge’s clearance. If the bridge isn’t raised, the Port would stand to lose business; the majority of carriers said “they may need to bypass the Port of NY/NJ in the future if the Bayonne Bridge remains a restriction” because Post-Panamax ships “will be deployed on most relevant trade routes whether the Port of New York and New Jersey can accept them or not.”
Notwithstanding the stated need to raise the bridge, the environmental assessment ultimately concluded that with or without the project, business will remain approximately the same in terms of volume:
“Even under the most conservative case… the analysis demonstrates that the additional induced demand at terminals west of the Bayonne Bridge would be less than 0.7 percent of the 10.65 million TEUs [Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units, or shipping containers] expected in 2035. This additional demand results in a negligible increase in truck and rail traffic that would not be noticeable on an annual, daily or hourly basis.”
In other words, although PANYNJ has said several times that raising the bridge must be done to avoid losing a significant amount of business, whether or not the bridge is raised, the volume of cargo will remain almost constant.
The EA clearly contradicts both the stated reason for the project and PANYNJ’s past statements about the project. And this contradiction is important because if raising the bridge means a much higher shipping volume it could mean air quality will be impacted by more trucks on the road moving that cargo. The Coalition’s experts determined that although the EA determined the project will add up to 54 truck trips from the PONYNJ, using more realistic mode splits for hauling the cargo from the port and expected changes in volume based on past studies analyses, the project could add up to 2,450 – 10,390 truck trips/day.
The Coast Guard’s approval of an EA that does not explain this contradiction does not comport with NEPA requirements that these types of environmental impacts be fully explained and analyzed. This analysis must be done before the Coast Guard can sign off on the project.