It'll be at least a month before damaged bridge reopensBy GRETYL MACALASTER
Union Leader Correspondent
April 03. 2013 5:47PM
PORTSMOUTH - It will be at least one month before the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge reopens to vehicular traffic.
On Monday afternoon, the aging bridge connecting Portsmouth and Kittery via the Route 1-Bypass was struck by a 473-foot oil tanker that came loose from the nearby state pier. An investigation as to why is still under way by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Underwater inspection of the Long Bridge on Wednesday unveiled damage to one of the piers, which is being analyzed to see if repair work is needed. It was also determined that two of the bridge's truss elements need to be replaced and others are being analyzed to see whether they need to be repaired or replaced.
As of 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, transportation officials said they still did not have a cost estimate for the repairs, but said they are on a path to getting the bridge fixed. Maine and New Hampshire share responsibility for maintaining the three bridges connecting Kittery and Portsmouth and will be hiring a private contractor to complete the necessary repair work.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, NH DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said there is a lot of inspection and engineering work going on to make sure the bridge repairs are expedited as soon as possible.
"The bridge took a big hit … all of the attention right now by the N.H. and Maine DOT's is on getting the bridge safe and back in operation," Boynton said.
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PORTSMOUTH — Transportation officials expect the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge to be closed for at least two to four weeks while structural damage is repaired.
The United States Coast Guard is investigating how the 473-foot Portuguese-flagged tanker Harbour Feature came loose from the state pier Monday afternoon and struck the downriver side of the Route 1 Bypass bridge.
A detailed inspection Tuesday confirmed damage to four steel bridge members that will require replacement or repair, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
Underwater inspection of two bridge piers is scheduled for today.
The New Hampshire DOT, in conjunction with the Maine Department of Transportation, is working to secure a private contractor to perform the repairs. Officials said cost estimates are still being developed.
The two states share responsibility for the three bridges connecting Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine.
The Memorial Bridge over Route 1 is under construction, due for completion this summer.
Only the Interstate 95 bridge is now available for commuters.
The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge was constructed in 1940 and is the state's number-one "red list" bridge, meaning it is the bridge most in need of repair. The state of Maine is leading the effort to design a replacement for the middle bridge; construction is slated to begin in spring 2015.
Marine traffic is able to pass under the bridge, officials said.
According to the Coast Guard, the tanker that struck the bridge was carrying tallow oil. No pollution was reported, despite a six- to 12-inch rupture above the water line of the vessel near the port ballast tank, Coast Guard officials said.
The Maine DOT website describes the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge (SML) as "the critical back-up route in case of disruption on the Interstate 95 Bridge. SML carries crucial commercial traffic along the U.S. Route 1 Bypass, including movement of people and goods to the Navy Shipyard in Kittery, which employs 4,200 workers."
The cost of replacing the bridge is estimated at $170 million.