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Sarah Long Bridge: Females working in a traditionally male world

Brooke Glidden and Mackenzie Kersbergen are two of a dozen women currently working on the Sarah Long Bridge project.

KITTERY (NEWS CENTER Maine) — The traffic headache along the Route 1 corridor between Maine and New Hampshire has been soothed by the highly anticipated opening of the Sarah Long Bridge.

Thousands worked on the multi-year, multi-million dollar project, including several dozen women.

Two of those female crew members, among the youngest, have big responsibilities.

Bridge Inspector Brooke Glidden, 26, of Palermo, and 29-year-old Chief Inspector and Civil Engineer Mackenzie Kersbergen, originally from New Jersey but now a Mainer, are working in a traditionally man’s world.

"On a typical job there’s maybe 20 guys. At peak, there was 150 to 200 guys."

They are two of the dozen women currently working on the Sarah Long Bridge. Both say they are inspired by Maine’s Chief Engineer Joyce Taylor.

"You’ll be able to see as we go under a lot of rust and if you pay attention to some of the railings, you’ll see that they’re just kind of hanging," Taylor told a group of dignitaries touring the bridge by boat in October 2016.

Among those onboard were Sen. Susan Collins and then U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

"Knowing that she’s gonna have your back definitely helps when there’s a decision making or just knowing that someone can get to that position is also really encouraging," Kersbergen said.

As they walk around the site, over large rocks, onto slick surfaces and up a half dozen flights of stairs, the two illustrate just how physical their jobs can be. They navigate every corner of the bridge and towers, and inspect every pipe, every piece of rebar and railing.

"One day I just sat here for hours counting all of the rods," Glidden explains inside one of the areas she oversees. "There were so many and they were so tightly woven together. Each piece was five-eights to an inch thick. I couldn’t put my finger through any of the spaces."

That type of solid building, "isn’t going anywhere!"

The job also requires brain power. “I’m trying to figure out what the limits are, and it’s 15 feet above and below the roadway level," Kersberger explains as she works her way through thick stacks of blueprints.

Each plan must be calculated precisely.

They have both learned another valuable lesson: The art of keeping things in perspective when frustrated.

"I was kind of like argh, the bridge isn’t open, you know we’re behind schedule and it was getting tough but then I went out on Pier 9 and it was beautiful and I’m like ‘this is what I get to do every day."

Construction on the bridge has been fraught with challenges: the weather, chief among them, putting the project many months behind schedule.

"You obviously have to have snow removed from your work area to be able to continue work and then the temperatures the cold. There’s a lot of things that can’t be done when stuff is frozen," Glidden says. "We had to have the concrete above a certain temperature to apply the epoxy for it to cure properly."

And that is critical, in managing the tons and tons of weight going over the bridge.

The lower level is still a work in progress. Crews, men and women, work side by side to complete the railroad that will allow the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s train to run between Portsmouth and Kittery, over the river. It’s something they hope will be finished by the beginning of the summer.

For two young women the process has been filled with challenge and pride.

"The knowledge that I’ve taken off this bridge will follow through to any project I go on."

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