U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., left, and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., join Ayotte’s children and N.H. Gov. Maggie Hassan during an official procession across the new Memorial Bridge Thursday morning.
Gretyl Macalaster/Union Leader Correspondent
Memorial Bridge opens to walkers, bicyclists; to vehicles later today
PORTSMOUTH - After nearly two years without pedestrian or bicycle access to Maine from Portsmouth, runners, walkers, unicyclists, and regular cyclists gathered Thursday to be the first across the new Memorial Bridge.The ribbon was officially cut by former Portsmouth Mayor Eileen Foley just before 11:40 a.m. to resounding cheers and applause.Foley was just 5 years old when she cut the ribbon to open the original Memorial Bridge on Aug. 17, 1923.In January 2012, that bridge was demolished due to age and disrepair, and the new bridge project began.Foley and her daughter, Mary Carey Foley, have been watching the progress from their nearby home.As she took her mother across the new span in a golf cart Thursday, Mary Carey Foley said it was the best day of both of their lives.They were joined by hundreds of others who wanted to be part of the historic day, and who marveled at the innovative bridge design and celebrated the re-connection between Maine and New Hampshire.U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, were all on hand to congratulate everyone involved with the project and to celebrate the bridge's opening.N.H. Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez also spoke during the official ceremony.That ceremony was preceded by an official procession across the bridge from the Maine side which featured antique cars from the era of the original bridge, dignitaries, and dozens of construction workers who spent about 18 months demolishing the old bridge and building the new one.Jared Foley of Portsmouth showed up around 9 a.m. to the still-blocked bridge with four colleagues who all work in Kittery.Foley, who is not related to the former mayor, said he has lived in Portsmouth his entire life and has seen the historic pictures of the original bridge being built.“It is cool to be at that version of it now in 2013. I think it will be cool to see the next hundred years of the bridge,” Jared Foley said.Bicyclists were particularly enthused. The opening of the bridge means Maine and New Hampshire are now fully connected via the East Coast Greenway, a bicycle route from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Fla.The bridge is expected to open to vehicular traffic sometime Thursday night.