Bayonne Bridge Raising Opens Ports to World’s Largest Ships

Raising the Bayonne Bridge—a world’s first—has opened the East Coast’s largest seaport to Panamax shipping vessels while preserving the historic steel arch bridge.

Since 1931 the Bayonne Bridge has served as a key link between Staten Island, New York and Bayonne, New Jersey; and for most of that time, its 151-foot clearance over the Kill Van Kull waterway accommodated vessels travelling to the Port of New York and New Jersey, the busiest ports on the Eastern seaboard.

But the emergence of enormous Panamax cargo ships, along with the 2016 completion of the Panama Canal expansion to accommodate those giant vessels, placed the Bayonne Bridge at a crossroads. Its once ample clearance was now too low to permit passage of these huge ships.

“The expansion of the Panama Canal has been a game changer for global goods movement,” said Beth DeAngelo, project director for WSP USA. “Without changes to the Bayonne Bridge, an increase in Panamax shipping would have diminished access to our goods and our community. We stood to lose a significant amount of shipping business to other East Coast ports.”

Once the world’s largest steel arch bridge, the Bayonne Bridge’s 5,322-foot span still ranks as the fifth largest in the world. Suddenly facing the possibility of demolition and reconstruction, another solution emerged that would preserve the historic bridge and those critical shipping lanes.

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©WSP USA

The raised Bayonne Bridge, with the original roadbed partially removed to allow for Panamax passage.

Raising Concerns

To allow fully loaded Panamax ships to enter the New Jersey ports of Newark and Elizabeth 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 that had never 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.

“Because of historical significance of the bridge, a decision was made to strengthen the arch and raise the roadway,” DeAngelo said. “This decision resulted in an extremely complex engineering masterpiece.”

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 to a height of 215 feet over the waterway, followed by the demolition of the original roadbed. WSP was responsible for portions of the design throughout the project. Roger Haight served as project manager during construction for WSP.

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©2016 WSP USA

Visiting the Bayonne Bridge during construction for a site visit are (from left to right) Mike Valletta, Greg Kelly, Beth DeAngelo, Rich Fischer and Jerry Jannetti.

Complex Work

More than 4,000 tons of steel plates was 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 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 in the bridge on the east side of the bridge, with a utility walkway beneath. The west side also includes a cantilevered utility walkway.

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 channel remained open throughout construction.

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.

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©2017 WSP USA

Following completion of the higher roadbed, the original roadbed was demolished, clearing the way for larger ships to pass beneath the Bayonne Bridge.

Maximum Headroom

When the new northbound roadbed officially opened to traffic in February 2017, the focus shifted to the demolition of the lower roadway, which would finally allow Panamax ships to pass through Kill Van Kull. In June 2017, demolition of the old roadbed was completed, raising the waterway clearance by 64 feet, enabling passage of Panamax ships up to 14,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent) units, a standard cargo container size.

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.

The WSP construction support team was invited to a parade of ships that joined the T. Roosevelt, and met with Jorge Quijano, CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, who came to witness the historic event. DeAngelo was among the WSP representatives riding on a boat near the bridge when the passage took place.

“It was an amazing moment, not only because of the impressive size of the Panamax ship, but because of how this improvement will benefit our community,” DeAngelo said. “One of the reasons this is a great place to live is because of accessibility to the large number of goods that enter through this port system. This ensures that these ports will continue to thrive as these larger ships become a standard mode of shipping.”

All Bayonne Bridge traffic currently uses the roadway that will eventually become the northbound span, while construction continues on a second span that will accommodate southbound traffic. Completion of the Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Project is targeted for mid-2019.

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©2017 WSP USA

The T. Roosevelt nears its passage underneath the raised Bayonne Bridge.

Grand Conceptor

The navigational clearance milestone for raising of the Bayonne Bridge has been honored as the best overall engineering achievement in 2017 by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).

The project received the Grand Conceptor Award at the ACEC’s Engineering Excellence Awards Gala in Washington, D.C. on April 17. The project was selected by a panel of nearly 30 judges as 2017’s most outstanding engineering accomplishment, from a group of 160 finalists.

“This is not only the largest, most complex project of my career, but it’s also the project that has had the most impact on the community in which I live and work,” DeAngelo said. “It was an incredible project, and it was an honor to have the opportunity to preserve a New York and New Jersey icon.”

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©2018 WSP USA

Representatives from HDR, WSP USA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, including WSP project managers Roger Haight (left) and Beth DeAngelo (second from right), accept the Grand Conceptor Award during the ACEC Engineering Excellence Awards Gala.

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