EPA contradicts White House and Congress on Bayonne Bridge project

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/15/2013

A project that would give truckers more freight to haul and boost the East Coast port economy by billions would seem like a win, but the U.S. EPA is attempting to mire the project in red tape by requesting further studies. That seems to contradict directives from the White House and Congress to expedite the Bayonne Bridge elevation project.

The project is known as “Raise the Roadway,” launched in 2010 by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to elevate the roadway deck of the Bayonne Bridge and improve traffic access on each side. The result will not only improve traffic flow on the bridge, but also provide additional clearance for cargo ships headed to and from Port Newark, Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminals and Howland Hook.

Officials and business groups say they want to be ready for an influx of cargo to the East Coast once the Panama Canal expansion project is completed.

The Coast Guard, which is in charge of the approval, is conducting an open comment period on the Bayonne project through March 5.

In a letter to the Coast Guard this month, the EPA expressed concerns about a likely increase in cargo volume, which would lead to more transportation activity, including trucks, in the region. That would affect air quality, the EPA says. The agency is requesting further study to compare cargo volume with and without the bridge project.

“The net air, water, and other environmental impacts will depend critically on the geographic scope of the environmental assessment,” EPA wrote.

But bogging the project down in red tape is the opposite of what the White House and Congress both want for transportation projects. Part of the federal transportation law MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, calls for the streamlining of environmental processes concerning infrastructure projects.

A White House press release from July 2012, released as President Obama was signing MAP-21 into law, specifically called for the expedition of the Bayonne Bridge raising project.

“This project, which is estimated to cost $1 billion paid with the Port Authority funding, involves raising the roadway from 151 feet to 215 feet above mean high water, while preserving the bridge’s historic arch,” the White House said.

“Effective coordination between the Port Authority and the Coast Guard (the federal coordinating agency) and with other federal agencies, is anticipated to reduce the overall permit decision-making and review timelines by several months.”

The White House target to complete federal permitting for the Bayonne Bridge is April 2013. Not only that, but President Obama said during his recent State of the Union speech that he wants the U.S. to double export growth by 2015.

The Coast Guard docket for the Bayonne project includes pleas from various individuals and environmental groups calling for further reviews and studies.

Truckers say things would be different if the scenario involved a new bridge built from scratch. The Bayonne Bridge, completed in 1931, is considered the fourth-longest steel-arch bridge in the world. The project will leave the arch intact.

“It’s frustrating to see the EPA jump in and try to halt improvements on a pre-existing bridge,” said Ryan Bowley, director of legislative affairs for OOIDA. “This is a sign of the frustration that’s been out there about the environmental process slowing down transportation projects.”

“MAP-21 made a number of important changes to speed up project delivery and give one agency authority over the permitting process,” Bowley adds. “It’s important that the U.S. DOT move forward in implementing those changes as expeditiously as possible and in a way that truly reflects the intent of Congress.”

Click here to learn more about the “Raising the Roadway” project.

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