June 30. 2013 11:40PM

NH, Maine combine forces to appeal for money to replace Sarah Mildred Long Bridge

Union Leader Correspondent

PORTSMOUTH — Maine and New Hampshire's Congressional delegations have joined forces to garner federal support for the ailing Sarah Mildred Long Bridge.

In a letter sent Friday, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, Angus King, I-Maine and Representatives Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Mike Michaud, D-Maine, invited newly confirmed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to visit the bridge and see firsthand the work that needs to be done.

A similar letter was sent to former transportation secretary Ray LaHood, who came to Portsmouth in 2010 to personally announce approved TIGER II funding for the $90 million Memorial Bridge project.

At that time, the Memorial Bridge was the state's number one red-listed bridge due to deficiencies and poor conditions. With the new bridge nearly complete, the 1940s- era Sarah Mildred Long Bridge has taken over the top spot.

Maine and New Hampshire share responsibility for both of those bridges, as well as the I-95 high-rise bridge.

In addition to vehicular traffic, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge also carries a rail line used by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to transport nuclear waste off the yard.

The cost of replacing the bridge has been estimated at about $160 million. About $25 million of that is just for the rail line.Last month, the Maine Department of Transportation, in partnership with New Hampshire, submitted a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER V, grant application for the $25 million to pay for the rail.

In the letter sent Friday, the Congressional delegations from both states implored Foxx to come see for himself how badly the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge needs to be replaced.

"This vital infrastructure, constructed over 70 years ago, has reached the end of its service life and is in need of a full replacement," the letter reads. "The Federal Highway Administration has classified the bridge as structurally deficient, and noted its truss spans are fracture critical, meaning that the failure of steel tension members could result in collapse. Full replacement of the Bridge is vital to this coastal corridor, as well as to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Port of New Hampshire."

The Maine Department of Transportation is leading the replacement project and hopes to start construction in the fall of 2014.

A day-long design workshop is being held at the Kittery Community Center on July 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to discuss various design aspects of the new bridge.