January 26. 2014 7:19PM

Cost estimates for replacing Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in Portsmouth higher than expected

Union Leader Correspondent

PORTSMOUTH — Maine and New Hampshire Department of Transportation officials remain hopeful that construction on a new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge can begin in the fall, but cost estimates so far are coming in higher than expected.

Joyce Taylor, chief engineer for Maine DOT did not provide specifics, but said so far the estimates are much higher than the $160 million agreed to by the two states to replace the ailing middle bridge connecting Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine.

The bridge was constructed around 1940 and carries a rail line across the Piscataqua River to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, allowing for nuclear waste removal, as well as vehicular traffic.

There is currently a 15-ton weight limit on the bridge.

Maine DOT is leading the replacement project and has been working with the design team of FIGG Engineering/Hardesty & Hanover on an innovative design for the new lift bridge that will also improve its functionality, particularly as it relates to marine traffic.

A public informational meeting about the project was held in Portsmouth on Thursday, but was not well-attended. Previous meetings held across the river in Kittery, Maine, have drawn many residents from both sides of the bridge to ask questions about the design and possible changes to the area.

The new bridge will be built offline of the existing bridge, allowing traffic flow to continue for much of the construction. The approaches from each side will remain largely the same.

The goal is to start construction in the fall and to open the new bridge in 2017.

Taylor said they will continue working out the details to try and bring the price down. The two states do reserve the right to put it back out to bid if the estimates do not come in low enough.