PORTLAND, Maine — A task force made up of Maine and New Hampshire transportation experts has put the final touches on a set of recommendations on how to fund more than $500 million in repairs, replacement and upkeep on three bridges that link the two states.
The recommendations include pursuing federal funds, selling a portion of the highway to the Maine Turnpike Authority and having both states contribute annually to a fund dedicated to the bridges.
The recommendations will be presented Wednesday to New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, Maine Gov. John Baldacci and Maine Gov.-elect Paul LePage. The task force took a long view of the three bridges’ needs, and the investment and funding plan spans a 30-year period.
The three bridges — the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, the Memorial Bridge and the Piscataqua River Bridge, which carries I-95 — are important to the entire state of Maine, from Madawaska to Kittery, stressed David Cole, Maine commissioner of transportation.
“It’s our lifeline,” Cole said Tuesday at the last meeting of the task force. “If you look at the state economy, it all funnels down to those bridges.”
Lynch and Baldacci both signed executive orders this fall establishing the task force to look at costs and funding mechanisms. New Hampshire long has insisted on replacing the bridges, but Maine kept open an option of removing Memorial Bridge. Task force chairman Dana Connors, head of the Maine State Chamber of Com-merce and a former Maine commissioner of transportation, said the group had committed to the idea of keeping all three bridges.
Connors said the recommendation that the states each commit to contributing to a fund that would go toward maintenance, rehabilitation and general operating costs was “historic.”
If approved by both states, it would go a long way toward keeping the bridges up to standard, and avoiding an incident that happened recently, in which the Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery was shut down last week due to hazardous deterioration, Connors said.
Earlier Tuesday, New Hampshire Transportation Commissioner George Campbell — a member of the task force — said that it will cost $30,000 for temporary repairs to the aging bridge, and that it would re-open in three weeks.
According to the plan to be presented to the governors, the three bridges would need $506.4 million over the next 30 years. For 25 years, each state would contribute $1.7 million annually to a “sinking fund,” a sort of lock-box dedicated to the three bridges and administered by the already-existing Interstate Bridge Authority, comprised of top transportation officials from the two states, among others. In Maine, $700,000 would come from the state and $1 million annually from the Maine Turnpike Authority.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.