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Grant would provide funds for Sarah Mildred Long Bridge work

The states of Maine and New Hampshire are hoping that a $25 million TIGER grant application submitted last week is selected by the United States Department of Transportation.

The grant would bring them one step closer to securing the funding necessary to rebuild the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge connecting Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, via the Route 1 bypass.

On Thursday, area residents got a glimpse at the preliminary design of the new bridge, which will use the same approaches on each side, but will swing out north of the existing bridge toward the I-95 high-rise bridge.

The preliminary designs are being put together by FIGG/Hardesty & Hanover, the team behind some very popular bridges including the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Prospect, Maine.

The plan so far is to start construction on the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in September 2014 and to have it completed by November 2017.

The process of building the new bridge will allow the existing bridge to remain open until about May 2017, which Joyce Taylor, bureau director of project development for Maine DOT, said will save time and money.

“The alternative we looked at was putting it in the same footprint, which would mean shutting down the bridge for the whole time,” said Jay Rohleder, project manager for design with FIGG. “We moved off of that in part because of the time constraint and it costs more to build that way.”

Taylor said the New Hampshire Port Authority is also pleased with the preliminary design, which will open access to its main pier, allowing longer tankers to dock there. The size of tankers is currently limited by the proximity of the bridge to the pier.

The $25 million U.S. DOT TIGER grant would help pay for a rail line that runs underneath the vehicular bridge and is used about once a year by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The entire bridge project is now expected to cost about $160 million with the costs shared by both Maine and New Hampshire.

Taylor said it is the mission of Maine DOT and NH DOT to keep the ongoing operational and maintenance costs of the bridge as low as possible.

“One of the things we are very focused on is not just the initial costs but the ongoing maintenance costs,” Taylor said. “It has to be an affordable, economical bridge.”

Rohleder said the design process being used is relatively new. Referred to as Construction Manager/General Contractor, or CM/GC, the process brings the contractor, in this case Cianbro, to the table during the design phase to work through the engineering and cost estimates of different designs at an earlier stage.

When the designs are complete, Maine and New Hampshire will negotiate the final price with Cianbro. If the two states are not satisfied with that price, they can still go out to bid.

Public input has also played a role in the preliminary design of the bridge.

The new bridge will be at a 15-degree skew instead of 25 degrees, and the navigational opening will be wider, which addresses the port’s main concern about larger tankers being able to get under the bridge.

The width will now be no less than 204 feet and will allow 32-foot openings on each side for tugboats to help guide large ships up the river, something that is not possible going under the middle bridge now.

The new bridge will also be about 40 feet higher, allowing more clearance for boats without having to lift the center span.

“It improves the shipping situation,” Rohleder said.

Some changes will be made to the approach roads near Oak Creek Terrace in Kittery and near the Portsmouth side, but overall they will stay largely the same.

Taylor said the three key elements in design were staying away from Albacore Park on the Portsmouth side, not taking any buildings from the Kittery side, and getting the navigational opening so it meets the future needs of the port.

“Those are the three things we told them we couldn’t veer from,” she said.

Another day-long design workshop is scheduled for July 11, with the final design going to the Maine Department of Transportation for approval in September.


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