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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie led a groundbreaking ceremony late last week to begin a long-awaited project to replace Amtrak's Portal Bridge. The $1.5 billion project is designed to improve rail transportation between New York City and Newark, New Jersey. It is part of the $30 billion Gateway program to improve rail traffic on the Northeast Corridor. The Portal Bridge is a two-track, 110-year-old swing span structure over the Hackensack River in Kearny and Seacaucus. It has a recent history of malfunctioning that causes rail traffic delays in the corridor. "This project is vital to our economy and the safety of millions of local commuters and people from around the world who use mass transportation along the Northeast Corridor," Christie said in a press release. The bridge is one of the heaviest used rail bridges in North America. New Jersey Transit carries 150,000 riders per day on nearly 400 trains, while Amtrak moves about 16,000 riders per day on more than 100 trains in both directions over the bridge. More than 58 million rail passengers use the bridge annually. Engineering plans to replace the bridge with a north bridge and a south bridge were completed in 2013 and funded by NJ Transit, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration. The project involves the construction of two new fixed-span bridges about 53 feet above mean high water, more than double the height of the current bridge. The new structure will allow for higher train speeds and greater train capacity. Early construction contracts worth $20 million have been awarded to move ahead with the Portal North Bridge project. Those contracts include construction of a finger pier, installation of new fiber optic cable poles, realignment of a transmission pole, construction of a steel bridge structure over the Jersey City Municipal Utility Authority water main, and construction of a retaining wall. NJ Transit and the U.S. Department of Transportation provided funding for the early construction work. Local share funding for the balance of the bridge construction has been arranged through NJ Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Plans to rebuild the Portal South Bridge will come at a later time, according to the press release.