PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Civil engineers have determined that the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic for two to four weeks after they performed a detailed examination of the damage caused Monday by an adrift, 473-foot tanker.
Bill Boynton, New Hampshire Department of Transportation public information officer, said experts from Hoyle, Tanner & Associates Inc. — a consulting and engineering company in Portsmouth, N.H. — conducted a comprehensive inspection of the bridge throughout Tuesday.
“That confirmed fears that they had beams that need to be repaired or replaced before it can be restored to motor traffic, and more that need to be repaired or replaced to allow rail traffic on the lower railroad bridge,” said Boynton. “They’ll be diving tomorrow to inspect two bridge piers to make sure there’s no further damage.”
The Portugal-flagged motor vessel Harbour Feature was carrying an unspecified metric tonnage amount of tallow oil, fuel oil and yellow grease, but there have been no reports of any water leaking into the ship or any pollutants leaking into the Piscataqua River.
Coast Guard officials put out a news release Monday afternoon saying that the Harbour Feature’s crew reported a rupture 6-12 inches long above the waterline of the vessel near the port ballast tank, but there was nothing coming in or going out of the ship.
The Harbour Feature struck the downriver side of the bridge that crosses the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery around 1:30 p.m. Monday. Two tugs freed the ship about 10 minutes after slack water — the time between high and low tides, which occurred at 5:45 p.m. Monday — and pushed it back to its moorings at the Port of New Hampshire.
Boynton said the Maine DOT and New Hampshire DOT are working jointly to secure a private contractor to perform repairs to the bridge, which are expected to take two to four weeks to complete. Estimates on repair costs are being developed.
“We hope to have a cost analysis done tomorrow, but it is OK to be open for passing nautical vessel traffic. The bridge’s lift span remains operational, so that is unaffected,” Boynton said.
With the Long Bridge currently closed and Memorial Bridge, which connects Portsmouth and Kittery via Route 1, being rebuilt and not scheduled to reopen until July, the only remaining bridge over the Piscataqua is the I-95 high-level bridge, which DOT officials estimate carries about 75 percent of Maine’s gross domestic product into the state.
“Obviously, a main concern Maine has is traffic is now limited to the I-95 bridge, but the traffic this time of the year is only about 33 percent of peak traffic time — in the summer,” Boynton said. “The average traffic load is 86,000 vehicles a day, and peak during the summer is 112,000.”