PORTSMOUTH — Archer Western Contractors has started incurring $25,000 per day penalties after failing to meet the July 19 contractual deadline for opening the Memorial Bridge and it is still unknown when the bridge will open.
Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, said work continues as DOT maintenance workers have been getting up to speed through classroom learning and hands-on work to be able to operate the bridge.
"The good news is that several of the people that were familiar with the river through operation of the Memorial Bridge and were essentially laid off have come back," Boynton said. "They may not know everything about the new bridge yet, but they know the river and the history of what it takes to work in that environment."
Boynton did not have information immediately available on the final work being done, but said it is everything associated with the fairly complex issues associated with assembling a lift bridge versus a fixed span, including mechanical, electrical and computer systems.
"When that actual transition takes place, we're not sure yet," Boynton said.
Boynton said for traffic control purposes, the bridge may open at an off-peak time citing traffic flow concerns expressed by the Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, police departments.
"Exactly how the bridge is going to be opened to traffic, I can't confirm one way or the other how that is going to happen yet," Boynton said. "What I will say is we want to open the bridge to traffic as soon as possible after we have control of the bridge."
Despite the delayed opening Boynton said the New Hampshire DOT is still viewing the timeline as an "amazing achievement" given it has been less than two years since the old bridge was demolished.
Boynton said they understand the economic importance of opening the bridge, but it is still a "remarkably expedited" process for a project this complex.
"I would not say this is frustration. We are looking forward to it with excitement," Boynton said.
Although the bridge is expected to open earlier, a celebration is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 15 around 10 a.m. and will feature a ribbon cutting by former Portsmouth Mayor Eileen Foley, who cut the ribbon on the original bridge when it opened on Aug. 17, 1923 when she was just 5 years old.