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NEWARK, NJ-Originally, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey planned to spend upwards of $3.1 billion to deepen the region’s major harbor channels to 50 feet by 2016. The goal is to accommodate the new generation of cargo megaships that might find their way to other ports of call if this region’s channels aren’t deep enough.

That’s still the goal, but the PA’s commissioners have just approved a new plan to get the project done by 2009, and for $2.3 billion. The reduced cost comes from a combination of the shorter time frame in general, and a streamlined procedure in particular. Explains Richard M. Larrabee, director of commerce for the PA, “the savings come from a variety of sources, including drilling and blasting to a 50-foot depth all at once, instead of dredging to 41 feet, then to 45 feet and then to 50 feet in a given area.

“The shorter project schedule also means that local residents will be impacted less by noise and blasting,” Larrabee continues, “and so will the marine environment.” He points out that of the $2.3 billion, the PA will pay $1 billion, with Federal sources covering the rest.

The issue has major implications for the region’s economy. The PA’s port facilities in New Jersey and New York, with about two-thirds of cargo activity flowing through New Jersey’s facilities in Newark and Elizabeth, generate more than $20 billion a year in economic activity. It’s estimated that more than 160,000 jobs are involved, directly and indirectly.

According to PA executive director Neil Levin, the $1 billion outlay toward the channel-deepening is part of a larger $1.8 billion capital program that includes a number of other projects. Among them are the expansion and relocation of the ExpressRail facility at the Marine Terminal in Elizabeth, a new intermodal facility on Staten Island and a cargo rail connection from Staten Island to New Jersey.

The PA commissioners have also approved two items related to the speed-up of the channel-deepening project. In the first, a $60-million fund will be set up to buy and preserve ecologically valuable land to balance the development and environmental needs of the port. New Jersey and New York will each get $30 million for that purpose. And a $50-million fund will be established to address rail-related projects aimed at improving cargo flow, with the two states dividing that amount equally.

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