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Panama Canal Project Raises Ire Around East Ports

"The Port Authority should fix port trucking; then they can raise the bridge," he said at the hearing.

In a statement, the Port Authority said raising the roadway will "have tremendous economic and environmental benefits for communities throughout the Port District." The agency said it is "committed to clean air strategies ... and we will continue to work with our neighbors in the port district to ensure that our ports are healthy and economically viable moving forward."

Gary Kassof, bridge program manager for the First Coast Guard District, said the agency stands by its assessment and is taking resident concerns into account before deciding if the document will be finalized or if more study is needed.

"We haven't made any decisions," Kassof said. "We are here to listen and gather information over the next couple of months, and that's what we'll be doing."

The report says truck traffic will increase one to two trucks an hour by 2035, a change that will have a "negligible effect on air quality." It also says the bigger, newer ships are more fuel efficient and produce fewer emissions than smaller, older ones.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a federal lawsuit last year on behalf of environmental organizations over plans to deepen the shipping channel to the nation's fourth-busiest container port in Savannah, Ga. Dredging the Savannah River, which runs between Georgia and South Carolina, would result in toxic cadmium being deposited on South Carolina shores and threaten wildlife.

"The Bayonne Bridge is the flip side of the Savannah deepening," with one in the air and the other underwater, said Blan Holman, a managing attorney in the center's Charleston, S.C., office.

The National Center for Healthy Housing is studying the effects of truck traffic and an intermodal rail facility from the Port of Baltimore, which plans to greatly increase commerce once the canal is widened.

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