How a wider Panama Canal results in a taller bridge in Bayonne, NJ

Posted by Mark Sa

Following up on our blog post on the expansion of the Panama Canal, I wanted to share how the NY / NJ area is anticipating the increase of larger vessels and cargo volume via the expansion of the Canal.  As such, they also begun a project of their own,  “The Bayonne Bridge Raise the Roadway.”

The Bayonne Bridge is a timeless work of structural architecture that deftly accomplishes the double-edged mission of a bridge by being both beautiful and strong in equal proportions.1 The bridge, now a historic civil engineering landmark, was designed by Othmar H. Ammann, and is the fifth longest steel arch bridge in the world, and was the longest in the world until the 1978 completion of the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia. It connects Bayonne, New Jersey, with Staten Island, New York, crossing the Kill Van Kull. Construction began in September 1928 and was completed in 1931. The main purpose of the bridge was to allow vehicular traffic from Staten Island to reach Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

I recently attended the NY / NJ Harbor Safety, Navigation and Operations Committee meeting and have learned that the $1.3 billion dollar project to raise the Bayonne Bridge from its current 151 feet above the Kill Can Kull to 215 feet as a result of the expansion at the Panama Canal is on schedule for completion on December of 2015. The Port Authority of NY / NJ are hopeful that the first vessel to pass via the new Panama Canal Expansion will make its way and dock at the Port of NY. The 64 feet of additional air draft under the bridge will allow the NY / NJ region to welcome the new generation of supersized Panamax ships to the local ports, which will in turn result in significant long-term benefits to the region.

Bayonne Bridge resized 600

The current 151 feet clearance does not allow larger vessels to pass under it and reach the regions' marine terminals; Port Newark, Elizabeth and Howland Hook in Staten Island. This is a concern amongst officials, fearing that the region could lose business to nearby competing ports, threatening the $36 billion in annual economic activity, $6 billion in tax revenues, and 269,000 jobs that depend directly or indirectly on the local shipping trade.  Shippers who depend on the NY / NJ ports for access to a regional transportation network today must use other smaller, less-efficient and less environmentally friendly vessels to deliver goods to the region. The expansion of the Panama Canal  and the Bayonne Bridge Raise the Roadway project will result in accommodating larger, cleaner, and more-efficient vessels to the NY / NJ region and other East Coast markets, producing cost savings within the supply chain and resulting in lower consumer prices.

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The Bayonne Bridge Raise the Roadway project is the first time in history that engineers will construct a bridge roadway deck above the existing roadway, while traffic continues to flow on the deck below. The project will represent a significant investment in the region as early estimates show that from 2014-2018, the project will support nearly 2800 jobs and $240 million in wages throughout the construction industry. Also, The new conceptual design highlights safety and design improvements providing drivers with a new, modern roadway with safer 12-foot lanes, shoulders, a median divider and a 12-foot bike and pedestrian walkway, as well as providing capability for future transit options. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that raising the bridge will produce a $3.3 billion national benefit, noting that 12% of all US international containers pass under the Bayonne Bridge.


1. Johnson, Stephen, and Roberto T. Leon. "Bayonne Bridge." Encyclopedia of Bridges and Tunnels. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2002. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. (accessed November 22, 2013).

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Posted on Nov 27, 2013, 3:16:00 PM

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