Construction challenges and the harsh 2014 winter has led the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to push back the completion of the raising of the Bayonne Bridge to late 2017.

That’s about a two-year delay from the original expected completion date and it means that navigational clearance for post-panamax ships are going to have to wait.

The $1.3 billion project to raise the Bayonne Bridge is important because it will remove an impediment to the handling of the larger ships the Port Authority expects. The bridge spans one of the channels leading to the Newark Bay and Staten Island port terminals which offers a draft too low for the latest megaships to negotiate. The project raises the bridge’s roadway from 151 feet to 215 feet mean high water, enough to allow ships of 13,000 TEU, and possibly better, to pass under it.

Navigational clearance at the Bayonne Bridge is now expected in late 2017, and project completion in mid-2019, according to the Port Authority. The roadway raising completion was originally anticipated for the end of 2015. The delay will result in an increase in total project costs of up to 15 percent.

“We want to see that project finished by the end of 2017 and so do our customers,” said Andrew Saporito, the Port Authority’s deputy director of port commerce. “We have been in communications with the shipping lines and the terminal operators and we are confident of the 2017 date.”

Several challenges have necessitated the push-back of the construction schedule, including a harsh winter last year, changes in the project to address community concerns, and modifications to the existing steel arch to ensure safety and allow traffic to continue during construction. The project is under construction by the joint venture of Skanska Koch/Kiewit Infrastructure Co. (JV).

“We are confident that we will complete the Bayonne Bridge’s Raise the Roadway project within the revised timetable,” said Michael Cobelli, president and CEO of Skanska Civil Inc., one of the joint venture partners. “This has been a challenging project, but we have committed the resources to complete it successfully, with full awareness of how vitally important it is for the regional economy.”

Besides providing navigational benefits to the port and the ships calling on it, the Raise the Roadway project will also provide wider lanes and new shoulders for drivers as well as a 12-foot wide bicycle and pedestrian walkway. When complete, the higher bridge elevation is expected to reduce noise and traffic in nearby residential communities, compared with the existing bridge.

According to the latest Port Authority update, construction on the project is about 50 percent complete, with $380 million worth of construction in place. The northbound roadway foundations are 100-percent complete. The New York and New Jersey abutments are 95-percent complete and the installation of pier segments is 50-percent complete. For the arch and structural steel work, steel fabrication is 90-percent complete and the New York and New Jersey towers are 85-percent complete, while the steel strengthening effort is 55-percent complete. Installation of the new suspender and deck system is to begin after substantial completion of the arch steel strengthening.