Friday, November 4, 2011

Updates from the Bridge

By Larry Favinger

Staff Columnist


The replacement of the Memorial Bridge that connects Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery continues to move forward on several fronts.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) has named a Chicago firm as the apparent team for the design/build contract for the bridge and the Maine Legislative Council has unanimously approved the submission of a bill by State Sen. Dawn Hill, (D-York) to allow signage on Interstate 95 to aid downtown Kittery businesses by directing travelers to them.

Other legislation submitted by Sen. Hill to provide immunity from tort claim lawsuits for a New Hampshire based transportation company looking to expand its one Maine route through Berwick to include Kittery and Eliot since the closing of the Memorial Bridge failed to receive support from the Legislative Council. It was voted down in a 5-5 vote.

Sen. Hill said Monday she will appeal that decision.

A team headed by Archer Western Contractors had been selected for replacement of the bridge that carries Route 1 across the Piscataqua River.

Archer Western submitted a bid price of $81,420,000 to replace the 88-year old lift bridge that is closed to motor vehicle traffic. The projected date for opening the new span is July 2013.

The bid opening is “another important milestone in our aggressive approach in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation towards building a new Memorial Bridge," Christopher Clement, NHDOT commissioner, said.

"We will get the successful bidder on the job to restore this vital transportation link between New Hampshire and Maine as soon as possible."

Design-build is a process in which the design and construction phases of a project are combined into one contract, with the goal of expediting project completion.

On the legislative front Sen. Hill said she appreciates “the support of legislative leaders to recognize the importance of signage on Interstate 95 “to the people and businesses of this area. I look forward to discussing this issue in the upcoming session.”

“The bridge may be closed, but the community is still open for business,” she continued. “This bill will help the people and businesses of Kittery during this period.”

Sen. Hill said the signage will not be billboard-type that is prohibited by State Law but will help direct traffic to popular local destinations, similar to detour signage.

As to the tort immunity proposal, Sen. Hill said she would like to reinforce the importance of it with help from the business community. She is seeking individuals and businesses to write in support of this legislation.

“I think once I am given the chance to explain the situation, there will be a clear understanding that this bill is of emergency status,” she said. “Input from local businesses and residents will be very helpful in garnering the support needed to move forward.”

At present the New Hampshire company does not fall under Maine’s immunity from tort claim lawsuits because it is located in New Hampshire.

Sen. Hill noted that without protection in Maine Law, the transit business faces insurance issues and is thus reluctant to expand its services. Maine transit organizations are protected from tort claim lawsuits.

A date for appeals has been scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Maine legislators filed over 290 bills for the upcoming session but none is allowed to be processed before the full Legislature unless approved by the council.

The State Constitution limits legislative business during the Second Regular Session to budgetary matters and legislation of an emergency nature.

The legislative session is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012.