PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Repairs to the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge between Maine and New Hampshire are expected to take longer and be more involved than initially projected.
A New Hampshire Department of Transportation official said Wednesday the bridge may remain closed through May 25, nearly double the length of time initially projected by NHDOT.
The bridge was damaged on April 1 when an oil tanker broke loose from the state pier and drifted into the bridge. One of the concrete piers was damaged and pieces of the steel truss were bent badly enough that they’ll need to be replaced.
The bridge, which carries as many as 16,000 cars over the Piscataqua River each day, has remained closed to vehicle traffic throughout the month. Traffic between the two states has instead been directed to the Interstate 95 bridge a short distance away.
The damage to the bridge has been estimated at about $2.5 million. NHDOT originally had anticipated the repairs would be complete near the end of April, but on Wednesday, NHDOT spokesman Bill Boynton said the anticipated completion date has been bumped to May 25, although the situation remains in flux.
One factor contributing to the lengthier timeline for repairs is the need to build a new support structure in the river. Boynton said workers will install new piers into the base of the river to help support the bridge while repairs are underway. A barge, a crane and materials are expected to be floated into the site beginning on Thursday. The new support structure is slated to be in place by May 2, Boynton said.
“They want to make sure that the bridge is well supported when they start removing some of these damaged pieces,” he said.
After a more thorough damage assessment, NHDOT also has decided to perform “heat straightening” on the bridge’s “lower chord” — the horizontal beam running underneath the bottom of the bridge. A subcontractor from Michigan has been hired to repair the beam, which was bent in the collision.
Pittsfield, Maine-based Cianbro has been tapped to complete the bulk of the repairs. The company has started drafting plans and fabricating steel pieces to replace parts of the bridge’s truss.
Beginning April 20, the work schedule will be expanded to include Sunday shifts, according to NHDOT. Among other tasks, the work includes stripping any lead paint from portions of the bridge that must be repaired.
While the bridge work is underway, NHDOT’s maintenance crews have been using the opportunity to perform regularly scheduled repairs on the bridge deck. Bridge inspections scheduled for May are also tentatively scheduled to take place in April to capitalize on the fact that traffic is already being diverted away from the bridge.
The Harbour Feature, the 473-foot-long oil and chemical tanker that struck the bridge, is owned by the Zacchello Group, an Italian company. The ship was being managed by Nordic Tankers of Denmark at the time of the accident. Transportation officials have said the shipping company will be responsible for paying for the repairs.
The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting an investigation into what caused the ship to break away from the pier and drift into the river. No determination has been made.
A Coast Guard spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Distributed by MCT Information Services