January 15. 2013 9:42AM

Portsmouth's new Memorial Bridge floats in right on time

Union Leader Correspondent

The first span of the new Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth is positioned Tuesday morning as workers and spectators look on. (Gretyl Macalaster/Union Leader Correspondent)

The south span of the new Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth was moved into place Tuesday morning after being constructed at the state pier on Market Street this fall. (Gretyl Macalaster/Union Leader Correspondent)

 (Gretyl Macalaster/Union Leader Correspondent)

 (Gretyl Macalaster/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH - The fanfare that heralded the departure of the old Memorial Bridge last January was reinvigorated Tuesday morning as the first span of the new bridge was floated into place shortly after 9:30 a.m.

As they have for every major event around the massive construction project, people flocked to Prescott Park to watch and photograph the span’s arrival.

At around 9 a.m., the barge Cape Cod was guided downriver by tugboats from the state pier to the bridge site.  The span was then turned and slowly aligned with the newly constructed Scott Avenue approach on the Portsmouth side of the bridge, and pier two in the middle of the river.

From there, the span was slowly lowered onto bearings to make sure the positioning was exact within a quarter of an inch.

On Tuesday evening, the barge Cape Cod was expected to be moved back to the state pier where construction of the north span of the bridge will begin.  Over the coming month, the south tower will also be constructed piece by piece at the bridge site.

Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., were both in the Port City to mark the milestone in the bridge’s construction.

Hassan met with iron workers at the state pier in the morning before the float-in.

Shaheen spent the morning at the deck near One Harbour Place to watch the operation.  Shaheen worked with her Maine counterparts to help secure a federal TIGER grant that helped fund the $90 million bridge project.

The new bridge is expected to be open to traffic sometime in July.

“It’s every exciting to see,” Shaheen said.  “This is one more positive step in getting the new bridge across from Portsmouth to Kittery.”

Denis Switzer, contractor administrator with the Construction Bureau of the N.H. Department of Transportation, said Tuesday’s event was a “bonding moment” for the communities of Portsmouth and Kittery, as well as the transportation departments in both states.

“We are bringing these communities back together the closer we get to putting these pieces back together,” Switzer said as the barge moved into place.

Portsmouth Mayor Eric Spear was also at One Harbour Place to witness the historic event and said it is nice to see the bridge return in a demonstrable way.

The old Memorial Bridge, constructed in the 1920s, was closed to vehicular traffic in January 2012 amid long-standing safety concerns.