October 21, 2018
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State officials rebut ‘rumors’ that new $170M bridge is unsafe

Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Construction work continues on the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge connecting Maine and New Hampshire this week. The bridge is now not expected to reopen until May, according to Maine transportation officials. It was originally scheduled to reopen to vehicle traffic on Sept. 1 of last year.

State transportation officials are responding to pushback over the delayed opening of the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, issuing a statement Friday saying the $170 million project does not have serious problems.

“The Maine and New Hampshire Departments of Transportation are aware of the rumors circulating about why the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge hasn’t opened and speculation that there is something wrong regarding safety or mechanical issues,” reads a statement released Friday morning by Maine DOT. “The fact is the bridge is operational and safe.”

Earlier this week, officials said the new bridge, which was originally scheduled to open to vehicular traffic Sept. 1 and since delayed multiple times, would not open until May. They cited general contractor Cianbro’s updated schedule for construction of the new bridge connecting Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine along the Route 1 Bypass over the Piscataqua River.

Seacoast Media Group has filed a Maine Freedom of Access Act request with the MDOT in an effort to get more detailed information on the reasons for the delays and is awaiting a response.

According to Maine DOT’s statement on Friday, the bridge was formally “commissioned” in late January. “This means the bridge was successfully lifted and operated under a variety of simulated scenarios which would allow the Maine and New Hampshire Departments of Transportation to assume ‘ownership’ and operational responsibilities,” the Maine DOT statement reads. “Training of the New Hampshire DOT employees responsible for operating the bridge has been successfully completed. They are currently waiting to take over those operational duties.”

The Maine DOT said, “Most of the outstanding work items are routine, and much of the remaining work is either aesthetic or weather-dependent including weatherproofing, paint touch up, and pointing and patching of concrete. Maine and New Hampshire are now evaluating all options for opening the bridge sooner than what is indicated on Cianbro’s most recent schedule.”

Earlier this week, Maine DOT spokesman Ted Talbot said the transportation departments in both states “ share the public’s frustration with Cianbro’s schedule.”

According to the construction contract, Cianbro faces a $1,000-per-day penalty for each day the bridge is not open to vehicles beyond the Sept. 1, 2017, deadline. However, Talbot has previously stated there have been no discussions between DOT and Cianbro over how the penalties could be assessed. The deadline to complete the entire project, which includes removing the construction trestle adjacent the bridge, installing railroad tracks and landscaping on both sides of the span, is June 1. The contract states there are additional per-day penalties on Cianbro for each day after the June 1 deadline the project is not finished.

The original bridge opened in 1940 and closed in August 2016. Construction of the new bridge began in 2015.

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