STATEN ISLAND — New York Harbor will be dredged to make the city's port accessible to a new generation of massive cargo ships, officials announced Wednesday.
The massive public works project will require a new water tunnel to be drilled between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Dredging work to make the harbor deeper will hit the current tunnels roughly 60 feet below the surface that were built back in 1917 and 1925.
“We have no choice but to change the infrastructure,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference on Staten Island, where he officially launched the project and introduced "Pat," the 110-ton boring machine that will be digging the new 12-foot wide two-mile long tunnel.
New “post-Panamax” cargo ships, that have necessitated an overhaul expansion of the Panama Canal, need as much as 50 feet of clearance of the sea floor to travel safely. The sea floor clearance now is 45 feet.
The ships are expected to carry up to 12,000 shipping containers, up from the 3,000-5,000 that current ships carry. Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro estimated that future ships will stretch as long as a quarter of a mile, versus the 500-to-900 foot-long ships we see today.
The city is investing $250 million to build a new, replacement tunnel, that will convey drinking water to the borough 100 feet underground — giving the approximately 5,000 ships that already pass through the channel each day plenty of room.
While Bloomberg has tried to tout the city's waterfronts as recreation spaces, officials said the Port of New York and New Jersey remains the largest on the east coast, handling approximately 40 percent of the region's trade, and sustaining tens of thousands of jobs
Cargo volume is expected to double over the next decade, thanks to the Panama Canal expansion, said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye, who said the ships carry everything, from food to furniture, which are delivered to the city, or transported elsewhere by truck or train.
“The dredging is very important to keep this port as an active port,” Molinaro said.
The city is also raising the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge to provide extra clearance.
Molinaro eyed the boring machine longingly.
“I'm a little sad it's not [here to build] a subway,” he said.
The boring project is set to be completed at the end of 2014, coinciding with the completion of work on the Panama Canal.