December 13, 2018
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Town manager: Maine-NH bridge construction holdup ‘a real burden on’ local drivers

Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Work continues on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, connecting Kittery, Maine, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Wednesday. Delays in opening the bridge to traffic have caused concern among locals heading into the higher traffic summer season.

KITTERY, Maine — Town Manager Kendra Amaral expressed concern to Maine Turnpike Authority officials this week over compounding traffic congestion with the delays in opening the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge connecting Maine to New Hampshire.

The MTA officials were in Kittery to discuss repairs on the Dennett Road overpass on Interstate 95 that are slated to last from March through June 22. This will result in at least one lane being closed on the northbound side throughout the duration of the work, according to MTA project manager Ralph Norwood. With the Sarah Long still not open on the Route 1 Bypass, the traffic woes could get worse, Amaral noted.

On Monday, Amaral said, Maine Department of Transportation chief engineer Joyce Taylor told her the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is expected to open on May 10, citing general contractor’s Cianbro’s projected date, though MDOT officials had recently said a partial opening of the Sarah Long could come sooner.

“When MTA was planning this, their goal was to make sure we did not have more than one route restricted, but with the middle bridge still being closed, that’s not coming through,” Amaral said on Monday. “It’s going to exacerbate cut-through traffic if the bridge doesn’t get opened on time; if MTA’s work doesn’t get done on time. This has the potential to drag into summer and it’s putting a real burden on Kittery residents.”

The delay in opening the $162 million SML Bridge has reached six months since its original projected opening of Sept. 1.

On Feb. 15, MDOT press secretary Ted Talbot said the bridge could potentially open with lane closures and/or off-hours closures to allow for work to continue. Talbot was asked about the disconnect between that statement and what Amaral was told by Taylor.

“Joyce Taylor has communicated to town officials of the official opening date as identified by the contractor,” Talbot said on Wednesday. “However, we are working closely with the contractor every day, and are making significant progress, to attempt to open the bridge sooner than the current date given. We remain optimistic the bridge will be open prior to May.”

According to MDOT, as of Feb. 19 the remaining construction tasks are ongoing roadway epoxy removal and point and patch repairs; finishing the Portsmouth bridge approach’s protective curb coating, touch up and painting on the lifting girder and completing final inspections and safety observations. Remaining tasks like applying the control tower’s anti-graffiti coating, touching up and painting the sheeves and pointing and patching the towers are weather dependent. When asked if there was a timeline to complete the final inspections, Talbot said there was not.

“Everything is fluid right now and things are changing hour by hour,” Talbot said.

The original Sarah Mildred Long Bridge connecting Portsmouth to Maine via the Route 1 Bypass opened in 1940 and closed in August 2016 after its center span malfunctioned in the raised position. Construction of the new bridge began in 2015.

Cianbro’s contract allows for MDOT to levy $1,000 per-day penalties for every day the bridge remains closed to vehicles beyond the original Sept. 1, 2017 opening day and for additional per-day penalties if the entire project is not complete beyond June 1, which entails removing the construction trestle adjacent to the bridge, installing railroad tracks and landscaping on both sides of the span. Talbot has previously said no discussion on how the fees would potentially be levied, or if they would be levied at all, has taken place.

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