Friday, November 19, 2010

Bridge Plans Move Forward

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
Projects to deal with two of the three bridges over the Piscataqua River that joins Maine and New Hampshire are proceeding.
Decisions have been made on replacing the Memorial Bridge that links downtown Portsmouth with Kittery, while three options are under study and consideration for the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge. These include rehabilitation, replacement with a low-level structure, or replacement with a hybrid structure that would allow some of the ships coming up the river to pass beneath it. It would, however, still be a drawbridge as it would lower as well for the railroad that runs under it.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) is taking the lead on the Memorial Bridge project, while the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) is leading the Sarah Mildred Long project.
“Right now New Hampshire is in the process of obtaining the permits and preparing the documents to proceed with Memorial Bridge,” Kenneth Sweeney, MDOT’s chief engineer said.
“Maine is taking the lead looking at the three alternates that remain on the table for Sarah Mildred Long and doing some more engineering work to determine which one of those remaining alternates we should proceed with,” Sweeney said.
A Tiger II grant of $20 million from the Federal Department of Transportation has been received “basically for that project,” for the replacement of the Memorial Bridge at its current site, according to Bill Boynton, a NHDOT spokesman. “That was a big deal. It certainly was a shot in the arm.”
The project is estimated to cost $90 million overall. The New Hampshire Legislature has earmarked $44 million for the project.
“Maine and New Hampshire are on the same page that we have to replace that bridge,” Boynton said, noting studies are under way to determine “how we’re going to pay for it. There are still some challenges here.”
In October Maine Gov. John Baldacci and New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch co-signed an executive order authorizing the creation of a task force charged with aggressively formulating plans that will allow the two states to develop funding for the projects, identifying joint financing options and proposing any necessary legislation to accommodate bridge construction. Among the two governor’s assurances is a commitment to a full vehicular replacement of the Memorial Bridge.
It is hoped that work on the Memorial Bridge will begin “next construction season,” Sweeney said, noting Maine “still has to go through the legislative process as to funding” for the project. The work is expected to take two years during which time the bridge would be closed to traffic.
Boynton said there is a 16-month waiting period for parts to that structure and some of the units needed would have to be brought in on the river.
Sweeney said work on the Sarah Mildred Long structure would not be done until the Memorial Bridge project was completed so traffic could use it while the other bridge is closed.
Estimates for the work on the Sarah Mildred Long span depends on which of the three projects is finally approved. Refurbishing would be the least expensive and the hybrid would be the most expensive, Sweeney said.
The Memorial Bridge is dedicated to the Sailors and Soldiers of New Hampshire who fought in World War I. It was constructed between 1920 and 1923. It is the only bridge that has provisions for pedestrians and bicycles.
Boynton said a public hearing to discuss the replacement of the Memorial Bridge will be held Tuesday, Nov. 23, in the City Council Chambers at Portsmouth City Hall. That meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Photo caption: Memorial Bridge, one of the three bridges connecting Portsmouth, NH and Kittery, ME over the Piscataqua River, will be rebuilt based on recent decisions including both states. (Photo courtesy