"Raise the Roadway" Bayonne Bridge Project

New Jersey Environmental Federation staff testified this February at the U.S. Coast Guard hearing in Newark on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s (PANYNJ) “Raise the Roadway” project for the Bayonne Bridge. The a project would raise the bridge 64 feet to make room for the new generation of supersized Panamax ships. Project proponents claim it will be a tremendous economic achievement and feat of engineering brilliance, yet have failed to conduct a thorough review of the project’s environmental and public health impacts.

Environmentalists believe the U.S. Coast Guard’s draft review of the project (Draft Environmental Assessment or DEA) is deficient. It is narrowly limited to the very few census tracts immediately adjacent to the bridge and does not include any of the port-adjacent communities. Those communities will bear the brunt of the increased cargo handling, truck traffic and diesel-related health impacts. That is why the New Jersey Environmental Federation is joining the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and numerous other organizations and local residents to demand that the U.S. Coast Guard conduct a full review (Environmental Impact Statement or EIS).

Diesel emissions cause asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) estimates that the risk of cancer in Essex County from diesel emissions is over a thousand times higher than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) acceptable levels. More people die from asthma in the U.S. than homicides. Asthma, corresponding hospitalizations and death rates in Newark are double those of suburban towns in the same county. These environmental, economic and health injustices have yet to be addressed on a broad scale – and certainly in relation to additional impacts associated with the raising of the Bayonne Bridge.

7,000 trucks enter and exit the Port of Newark and Elizabeth every day. The PNCT Terminal has already started renovations that will double its capacity. While Global Terminal does not need the bridge raised to bring in its ships, twice as many containers (more than 1 million) are anticipated to hit the road largely by truck.

Raising the Bayonne Bridge will have negative impacts on local communities, but so far the U.S. Coast Guard refuses to acknowledge the problem. If the bridge is going to be raised, then public health protections for local residents and workers must be raised at the same time through diesel exhaust mitigation:

  • Trucks with filter retrofits or upgraded newer engines reduce diesel exhaust pollution by 90 percent.
  • Equipment, waiting areas and warehouse docks can switch from diesel to electric.
  • EZpass-type systems can increase efficiency and reduce idling pollution at terminal gates.

Until now, the workers and area residents who suffer poor health and higher healthcare bills have borne all the costs — this must stop. Shipping companies and others who will profit from the project should pay the true cost of doing business at the ports, including health improving measures.

Proponents say raising the bridge will boost the region’s economy. Where are the benefits for local residents and the local economy? Only 8 percent of Port Newark’s workforce is from Newark; 18 percent of Port of Los Angeles workers are local. Major port customer Sealand Maersk’s annual revenue is $25 billion, while the average Newark family with children earns $28,000. Yet the port’s failed clean truck loan program required financially struggling independent truck drivers to foot the bill for upgrading their diesel trucks.

The New Jersey Environmental Federation and allies are demanding a Community Benefits agreement to address these environmental and economic injustices. Such an agreement will help ensure public health, clean environment and economic benefits for residents of Newark, not just for the port. Environmentalists and community leaders favor economic growth, but not at the expense of people’s health and well-being. If the Port Authority wants the project to move forward, then a full environmental review should be mandatory. In the meantime, the port can begin mitigating diesel emissions now. The pollution prevention technologies already exist and are proven. It is time for the port authority to just do it.