New York Officials Await Greenlight for Project to Allow for Bigger Ships

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Bayonne Bridge (chrastoslalu/flickr)

(New York, NY -- Janet Babin, WNYC) Port Authority officials are waiting to find out whether the federal government will allow a project involving the Bayonne Bridge to move through a faster permit process.

The bridge, which links New Jersey and Staten Island, is inextricably bound to the future success of the New York Harbor.

Upgrades to the Panama Canal means bigger ships will make their way through the channel and up the East Coast by 2014. But these mega container ships won’t fit under the Bayonne Bridge, which means they can’t enter New York harbor.

The Port Authority is spending $1 billion to lift the roadway, so the ships can fit underneath. But there’s a time crunch. The bridge won’t be completed until two years after the Panama Canal is widened.

Without the bigger cargo ships, the port industry is a risk of losing business to other regional harbors.

Faster federal permitting and reviews could shave up to six months off the project’s timeline. “Every day that a project like this is delayed results in additional accruals of financial costs, and every day and week and month that we can eliminate saves the project and the region money,” Port Authority Director Patrick Foye said.

President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order on Permitting and Federal Review last month. It was an idea he introduced during his State of the Union Address.

“We were first in the nation to take advantage of the process,” Foye said.

This will allow the Port Authority and other state agencies to designate projects of regional and national significance. Those projects, if approved by federal regulators, will be able to undergo concurrent as opposed to sequential reviews that would normally take months to complete. For example, the Order would allow approved projects to combine the process of an environmental review with an environmental impact statement.

Critics contend the fast-track review process fails to allow adequate time to assess the environmental or community impact a project can have.

Foye said the Port Authority will likely hear whether the Bayonne Bridge has been approved for the fast-track review process, within the next two months. He said construction on the Bridge is expected to begin early next year.