Portsmouth, NH - A large crowd gathered along the Portsmouth waterfront this morning to watch as tugboats, cranes, and other heavy lifting equipment positioned the first section of the new $81.4 million Memorial Bridge onto its abutments
. The placement of this first section represents a significant step forward in expediting traffic flow over the Piscataqua River between Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The original Memorial Bridge at that location was constructed in 1922 and opened to traffic in 1923. It joins Dutton Avenue US Route 1, in Portsmouth to Badgers Island, Maine, and then on to Kittery. The state line between Maine and New Hampshire runs almost exactly through the middle of the center span of the old Memorial Bridge. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a major nuclear submarine overhaul and repair facility, is immediately to the east from the bridge.
The Memorial Bridge had served well during its 90 year life but in recent years it had deteriorated to an extent that closures for emergency repairs were relatively routine. In 2011, shortly after reopening for traffic after extensive emergency repairs, Tug Alley Too tug captain Bob Hassold reported a large piece of the bridge coming lose and falling into the water. Then, after further emergency inspection and repair, the bridge was closed permanently in July 2011.
The 2 million pound span assembly is the first 300 feet of the new bridge. The weather today for the work was incredible for a mid January winter day with clear skies and temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Concerns about typical unpredictable New England harsh weather conditions had caused officials to plan for several contingencies but the installation timing came on the heels of a few days of temperatures over 20 degrees above normal and one day before several inches of snow and another expected cold spell with temperatures near zero.
Work started at just after 9AM, timed with tidal flows, and in the first hour the span had been floated on its barge into alignment but it was still about 3 feet above road level. At that point several onlookers questioned one of the bridge engineers who was standing among the crowd on the nearest pier and radioing observations to work crews about “dropping it into place”. The engineer replied that “nothing is going to be dropped” and actual placement would take quite a few hours and lowering would be aided by the tide.
The new bridge will be of similar construction with a center span that will raise to allow shipping to navigate up river past the bridge. But the new design has a more streamlined appearance than the old bridge and Save Our Bridges is seeking donations to implement nighttime lighting of the structure to add to the local night skyline.
The bridge construction is on schedule and it is scheduled to be opened to traffic on July 6, 2013.