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BAYONNE, NJ-The Port of New York and New Jersey got a major boost late last week when the Port Authority Board of Commissioners authorized a planning analysis to help tackle Bayonne Bridge navigation issues posed by new super ships that are set to arrive following the Panama Canal’s 2014 expansion.

The Board authorized up to $10 million for planning and engineering services to develop options to deal with the bridge’s low clearance, which could prevent larger ships from reaching the bi-state port’s container terminals west of the bridge. The Port Authority’s evaluation will establish conceptual cost estimates and schedules for each option and provide a regional cost-benefit analysis of the alternatives, according to the Authority, which adds that planning and engineering efforts will take around 1.5 years. One idea being floated involves replacing the bridge with a tunnel under the Kill Van Kull tidal straight.

These planning efforts will supplement a Port Authority-commissioned study by the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Coast Guard that is looking at the impact of the bridge’s 151-foot clearance on future port trade, as well as the national economic development benefit that would be gained from eliminating the bridge’s navigational obstruction.

“Our cargo business supports thousands of jobs and billions in regional economic activity and must be protected at all costs,” Port Authority chairman Anthony R. Coscia said in a statement. “This initial investment will explore options to remove the shipping impediment and help preserve our port’s standing in the years ahead.”

In other Port Authority news, the Board of Commissioners on Friday authorized the acquisition of 9.7 acres of environmentally valuable property in South Plainfield that will be preserved for public use.

The land, known as the Adams property, will be acquired under a $60 million program to help the Port Authority balance its redevelopment plans with the need to preserve critical habitats and waterfront areas for public use in New York and New Jersey.

The acquisitions are properties that environmental groups have identified as candidates for preservation and meet at least one of several criteria, including the ability to provide public access to waterfront areas, the ability to provide buffer areas around Port Authority facilities and the ability to preserve key natural resource territories.

The South Plainfield property is part of the Dismal Swamp complex, which covers nearly 650 acres of wetlands and stretches into Metuchen and Edison. Since the program began in 2001, the Port Authority has authorized around $22 million for acquiring and improving more than 230 acres in New Jersey and $19 million for 108-plus acres in New York.

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