May 23, 2018
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State officials, local businesses frustrated by more delays in bridge construction

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.
By Alex LaCasse, Portsmouth Herald
Updated:

State Department of Transportation officials are expressing frustration with Sarah Mildred Long Bridge contractor Cianbro after its latest construction schedule revealed the new $170 million bridge will not be opened to traffic until May.

MDOT press secretary Ted Talbot said the Maine and New Hampshire DOTs were, “exploring all options,” after the Maine-based contractor published its latest schedule on Monday projecting an early May opening to vehicular traffic. However, Talbot declined to elaborate what “all options” could include. He also would not discuss any specific causes for the latest construction delays that will further push back the bridge’s opening, which was last projected to occur “sometime in the winter” back in mid-January.

The bridge was originally scheduled to open last Sept. 1.

“As you can see from Cianbro’s schedule on MaineDOT.gov., they do not anticipate opening the bridge until spring of this year,” Talbot said. “Maine and New Hampshire departments of transportation share the public’s frustration with Cianbro’s schedule. We are exploring all options.”

The replacement bridge connecting New Hampshire and Maine via the Route 1 Bypass has been dogged by several delays that have pushed back its opening to motorists throughout the fall and winter after it was originally slated to open to cars last September after construction began in 2015. The original Long Bridge opened in 1940 and was taken out of service in August 2016.

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.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard relies on the train line to remove spent fuel from overhauled submarines from the base. Public Affairs Officer Gary Hildreth said even though all spent fuel is removed by rail, the delay in the bridge opening has not negatively impacted the shipyard’s operations.

“The delay of the opening of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge has had no impact on shipyard operation,” Hildreth said. “Going forward the shipyard anticipates no effect (on operation) due to our continued work with our state partners.”

Dave Lorandreau, manager of Jackson’s Hardware and Marina on the Route 1 Bypass in Kittery, said the lack of communication on the specific issues delaying the project has been a major cause of frustration.

With the latest delay, he said his business will suffer further losses because March, April and May are the busiest months for the hardware store with people coming in to get a jump on their summer projects at home. He said the bypass has become a de-facto one way road and it limits how many passerby customers come into the store.

“The communication has been pretty horrible,” said Lorandreau. “It’d be nice if they came out and said what the specific causes of all the delays are. It’s probably more frustrating for the guys building it, but we have 15 to 20 customers a day coming in and asking us what’s wrong with the bridge and it’s not like we have the answers. Everyone is just speculating right now.”

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