Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Project

The raising of the Bayonne Bridge opened the East Coast’s largest seaport to New Panamax shipping vessels while preserving the historic steel arch bridge.


  • Staten Island, New York, USA
  • Bayonne, New Jersey, USA


  • Port of New York and New Jersey

Project Status

  • To be Completed in mid-2019


  • 2018 Grand Conceptor Award, American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC)
  • Diamond Award, ACEC New York
  • Grand Honor Award, ACECNJ


  • HDR

“The expansion of the Panama Canal and the emergence of New Panamax ships has been a game changer for the global movement of goods. Without raising the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate these new vessels, our ports would have diminished access to global markets.

“When the first New Panamax ship passed under Bayonne Bridge to enter the Port of Newark-Elizabeth it was an amazing moment, not only because of the impressive size of the ship, but also because of the event’s significance for the community.”

Beth DeAngelo
WSP’s Project Director

The emergence of enormous New Panamax cargo ships, along with the 2016 completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal to accommodate those giant vessels, placed the Bayonne Bridge at a crossroads. The once ample clearance for the bridge that connects Bayonne, New Jersey and Staten Island, New York, was now too low to permit passage of these huge ships.

Without changes to the 46-metre clearance of the Bayonne Bridge, an increase in Panamax shipping would result in the loss of a significant amount of shipping business travelling to the Ports of New York and New Jersey—the busiest ports on the Eastern seaboard—to other East Coast ports.

Once the world’s largest steel arch bridge when it first opened in 1931, the Bayonne Bridge’s 1,622-metre span crossing the Kill Van Kull waterway still ranks as the fifth longest in the world.

Annual Vehicle Crossings
3.5 million 3.5 million
New Clearance
65.5 metres 65.5 metres
Original Bridge Opening Year
1931 1931
Original Clearance
46 metres 46 metres
1622 metres 1622 metres
World Rank, Longest Steel Arch Bridge
5th 5th

Suddenly facing the possibility of demolition and reconstruction, another solution emerged that would preserve the historic bridge as well as those critical shipping lanes.

To allow fully loaded New Panamax ships to enter the ports of Newark and Elizabeth in New Jersey, and the Howland Hook Marine Terminal in Staten Island, a joint venture of WSP USA and HDR worked with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey on something believed never to have been attempted before—raising the height of an existing bridge roadbed without completely shutting down traffic.

With $200 billion worth of goods flowing through the ports annually, 3.5 million vehicles crossing the bridge and limited alternative routes for traffic, it was not practical to close either the bridge or the shipping channel during construction. The solution was a plan to strengthen the arch and raise the roadway.

“Raising the roadbed of the bridge without completely shutting the bridge to vehicular or maritime traffic posed an extremely complex engineering challenge,” said DeAngelo.

Design began in 2011, and by 2013 construction started on the project known as the Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Project. The design called for the raising of the roadbed by 19.5 metres to a height of 65.5 metres over the waterway, followed by the demolition of the original roadbed. WSP was responsible for portions of the design throughout the project.

With carefully planned staged construction, the bridge successfully remained open to traffic during peak hours, with lane closures usually limited to weekends and nights. The shipping channel remained open throughout construction.

More than 4,000 tons of steel plates were used to strengthen the bridge, accommodate higher wind loads and allow future light rail. This reinforcement brought the bridge into compliance with American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials load and resistance factor design standards.

To maintain a 100-year design life, stainless steel rebar was used in the superstructure precast box segments’ roadway deck. Significant arch strengthening was required, as well as cutting new roadway portals through the existing arch and eventually closing the arch portals from the lower roadway. New floor beams in the arch span are now located at the intersection of the new roadway and the lower arch chord.

The arch abutment towers were widened and increased in height to accommodate the higher roadway. Finger joints and expansion bearings were used at the intersection of the roadway with the arch truss lower chord to accommodate the expansion and contraction of the span.

Work on the bridge approaches included construction of new post-tensioned precast concrete piers and two parallel segmental approach box-girder spans adjacent to and above active traffic lanes. This design philosophy mitigated the construction impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. The approach piers were designed to resemble the curved arches of the original 1930s piers.

A cantilevered shared-use pedestrian/bicycle path was also installed on the east side of the bridge, with a utility walkway beneath. The west side also includes a cantilevered utility walkway.

Bayonne Bridge also became the Port Authority’s first open-road electronic-only toll facility in 2017, using a toll gantry on the Staten Island side of the bridge to register E-Z Pass tags and cameras to capture licenses of non-E-Z Pass vehicles for billing by mail.

The new northbound roadbed opened to traffic in February 2017, and by June the lower roadway had been removed, raising the clearance by 19.5 metres. In June 2017, demolition of the old roadbed was completed, allowing Panamax ships up to 14,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent or 6.1 metre) units, a standard cargo container size, to pass through Kill Van Kull.

On Sept. 7, 2017, the first Panamax ship – the T. Roosevelt – passed under the Bayonne Bridge’s new navigational clearance to enter the Port of Newark-Elizabeth.

As of February 2019, both of the bridge’s roadways are open to traffic, marking the first time since 2013 that four lanes of traffic are traversing the Bayonne Bridge.  Completion of the Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Project is targeted for mid-2019.