Friday, August 12, 2011

Memorial Bridge Subject of Recent Meeting in Kittery

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
Officials from Maine and New Hampshire have been aware of the problems connected with the closing of the Memorial Bridge that spans the Piscataqua River connecting Portsmouth and Kittery, and those were underlined by local residents at a meeting last week at the Kittery Town Hall.
Nearly 75 people attended the meeting set up by the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce to hear Commissioner David Bernhardt of the Maine Department of Transportation and Keith A. Cota, chief project manager for the replacement of the Memorial Bridge from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
After a discussion of generalities, the speakers got down to specific concerns about dealing with the closure of the bridge, including how people who do not drive would get back and forth to work from the two municipalities, the possibility of a public transportation system being put in place for the duration of the closure and beyond, and even the possibility of establishing some kind of ferry service across the river.
Steps have already been taken for signage to help travelers get from one side of the river to the other and hence to the business communities. More than 30 signs were scheduled to be erected the beginning of this week to address that issue.
The bridge, which is now closed to vehicular traffic, is to be replaced under the guidance of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. If all goes well the replacement bridge is scheduled to be open in late 2013.
Cota said at present pedestrian and bicycle traffic will continue to use the bridge, but cautions there is “always the chance that it may not be available to any traffic” if the pace of deterioration continues. It will be inspected periodically to make sure it remains safe for that limited use.
He said approximately $1.3 million has already been spent to keep the bridge together.
As to transportation between Portsmouth and Kittery, he said the firm that finally lands the design/build contract would be charged with developing a transportation plan as well. “A lot of information is being developed,” he said.
The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge on the Route 1 Bypass and the Piscataqua River Bridge on Interstate 95 remain open, although there is a weight limit on the Long span.
A project addressing that renovation of the Long Bridge will be under the auspices of the Maine Department of Transportation once the Memorial bridge project is completed.
Work will be done to continue to help customers find their way to local businesses, Bernhardt said. “We don’t want anyone to be hurt or anyone to fail.”
As to the closing of the bridge at a much earlier date than originally planned, he noted, “It’s melting before your eyes” and there was no way to continue to allow vehicles to cross the bridge safely.
Jeff Pelkey, chairman of the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce, said he was “very pleased” with the meeting that provided “a lot of good feedback from both sides of the river.”
He said there was a tone of working together at the meeting as people from both Maine and New Hampshire listened, expressed their concerns and offered suggestions.
He said the Chamber stands ready to show businesses to “think out of the box” during the replacement of the bridge and with the help of state agencies will help businesses “rethink the way they do business to get them over the hump.”
The Chamber web site notes: “Our goal, as the Chamber of Commerce officially representing Kittery, is to minimize any possible negative impact of this closure on our Kittery businesses.”