KITTERY, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A historic bridge that links Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery is about to come down, making way for a brand new, one-of-a-kind bridge. The nation's top transportation leader was in the area on Monday to take a closer look.
"I'm delighted the Secretary accepted my invitation to come to Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, standing on the dock alongside Portsmouth Harbor Cruises' boat, The Heritage, that she and U.S. Sec. of Transportation Anthony Foxx would later take out onto the Piscataqua River.
Sec. Foxx, getting a first-hand look by the water at what $25 million — part of the Tiger Grant program he approved — is going toward, replacing a badly worn Sarah Mildred Long Bridge.
“You'll be able to see as we go under a lot of rust and you will if you see some of the railings, you'll see that they're just kind of hanging," explained Maine Dept. of Transportation chief engineer Joyce Taylor. "They're just so rusted out that if anyone hit it they would have gone over."
Taylor also told the special visitor that both Maine and New Hampshire officials shut the bridge down several months ago when its middle section got stuck in the "up" position. The 76-year-old lift bridge is the major artery for U.S. Route 1 traffic from Portsmouth into Kittery.
“Sen. Collins has been telling me how important this project is to this region for some time, and I can tell how much of an impact the old bridge had,” Sec. Foxx shared. Collins concurred: “This bridge is absolutely essential to the operations of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It's how they get materials out of the shipyard when they're doing refueling."
The work, already underway, features giant concrete blocks, 80 tons each — the first of its kind in the U.S. The bridge will lift for big ships, lower for trains and regular traffic. Sec. Foxx calls it an example for the nation.
“It’s actually fixing a problem we have in the country and not only fixing it but making it better, and that’s what we want,” he said. “It’s critical for the country and, in fact, in some ways this project is a poster child for what we should be doing as a country, which is building up our infrastructure, lifting up our people, creating jobs and providing the access points for the 21st century economy.”
That type of improvement is at the heart of the national Tiger Grant program, intended to help stimulate the economy and create new jobs.
On the worksite alone, nearly 200 Cianbro employees are putting concrete blocks together, painting some, sealing others. The project is a collaboration of local companies and a combination of products from New Hampshire, Maine and other areas around the country.
The importance of the bridge project is not lost on Sec. Foxx. “We’re trying to transform communities and we’re trying to do what transportation does when we do it well, which is to create jobs, to provide better access to people and to lift up communities.”
“Over $122 million has come to our state since that program was first created in 2009,” Sen. Collins outlined. “We’ve been funded in every single round, so that’s been a great program for Maine’s bridges, for our rails, for our roads and for our ports.”
Still, Collins and Foxx agree, there is much more work to be done to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. And that, they also agree, will require much more money. Sec. Foxx pointed out, “we’re spending a fraction of the dollars that we should be spending on our nation’s infrastructure.
"Every place I go I see rust, I see concrete falling. I see all kinds of problems," he said. "But it’s also nice to have a little break from that and see something actually happening and that’s what the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is doing.”
Making way for the new means the old must come down. The center section of the Sarah Long Bridge is scheduled to be taken down between Oct. 10 and 16, which means all the river traffic on the Piscataqua will be shut down. The rest of the bridge will come down piece by piece over the winter.
The new bridge will bear a literal seal of approval: both Sen. Collins and Sec. Foxx signed a piece of concrete which will go into the building of the bridge. Collins wrote, “Thanks for doing such a great job! Best wishes!” Sec. Foxx signed, "To the men and women who toiled for progress…thank you!"
The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge was originally named in 1980 for Long, the longtime interstate bridge commission’s secretary. The new Sarah Long Bridge is expected to be completed September 2017.
Later Monday afternoon, Senator Collins and Secretary Fox toured the Portland International Marine Terminal to view the progress it's made after receiving numerous federal grants.
Earlier in the summer, Collins announced the terminal would be getting $7.7 million to expand in order to process more ships more quickly.