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January 25, 2013

Maine-N.H. bridge still stuck, snarling traffic and business

The Route 1 Bypass bridge between Kittery and Portsmouth could reopen Friday, but the timetable is uncertain.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

KITTERY – Greg Odiorne waited in a line of cars at the Sarah Long Bridge for 45 minutes Wednesday afternoon, thinking that as soon as he decided to turn around and take Interstate 95 instead, the light would turn green.

click image to enlarge

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge (Route 1 Bypass) spanning the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine, is currently closed to traffic.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

In this photo made Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, traffic backs up in Portsmouth, N.H., after the lift span on Sarah Mildred Long Bridge became stuck about a foot from its normal position. Work was started on Thursday to fix the lift bridge between New Hampshire and Maine. (AP Photo/Ioanna Raptis/Seacoastonline)

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"You don't know. That's the thing," he said, uncertain why traffic was stopped at the drawbridge on the Route 1 Bypass – the main route for locals to cross from Kittery to Portsmouth, N.H., while the Memorial Bridge is being replaced.

This time, it wasn't a ship coming through or a closed traffic lane. During a test lift by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, the span got stuck about a foot above the roadbed on its way down. It stayed stuck all day Thursday.

The bridge could reopen Friday, but it's hard to estimate how long repairs will take, said Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

The span, which lifts parallel to the ground, came off its tracks and damaged the steel guides on both sides. While the 73-year-old drawbridge has been stuck before – and was struck by lightning in June – this problem had never occurred, Boynton said.

In the meantime, the only way over the Piscataqua River is I-95 – the most practical route from Maine to the rest of the country.

Dave Corcoran, manager of Jackson's Hardware & Marine in Kittery, said he's just glad that it's not summer, when interstate traffic gets backed up to York.

"It would be impossible to get to Portsmouth, if you didn't have a boat," he said.

Joe Calderara, a clerk at the hardware store who commutes two miles from his home in Portsmouth, imagined what would happen if I-95 also shut down for some reason. He'd have to cross over from Dover, N.H., to get to work, he said, which would take him about 45 minutes.

Using the interstate doesn't extend his travel time by too much. "You can go faster on 95 than you can the bypass," Calderara said.

But it isn't just border-crossing commuters who are affected.

"That (closed) bridge kills my business," said Jacqueline Patstone, a cashier at Buzzy's By Pass Gas in Portsmouth.

Patstone, whose shift runs from 1 to 9 p.m., said there wasn't the usual after-work rush of people coming in for beer and cigarettes Wednesday.

"I like it being busy," she said. "Makes time go by faster."

Depending on how long the bridge is closed, the inconvenience for commuters and business owners could turn into a bigger problem for shipping on the Piscataqua.

A barge is now stuck upriver from the bridge, said Geno Marconi, director of New Hampshire ports and harbors.

It unloaded its cargo at the Schiller Station power plant, and now it can't get back under the Sarah Long Bridge because the span is too low.

"If it's not moving, it's not making money," Marconi said.

More crucial are deliveries to the oil terminals upriver from the bridge, including Irving, Sea-3 Inc. and Sprague Energy, which supplies home heating oil throughout New England.

Marconi said a couple of the terminals have called him to ask about the bridge repairs.

"Everybody's getting concerned about how long it's going to take," he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

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