With about four years left in the remaining life of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, it now looks like MDOT and NH DOT have agreed on a plan to replace the existing bridge rather than to rehabilitate it. The decision was a change in direction for this bridge, as the results of the Connections Study led to the decision to just rehabilitate the bridge.
There are global changes happening in the shipping industry, largely as a result of the current expansion of the Panama Canal. The Port of Long Beach, CA, is currently the largest port in the USA. When the new Panama Canal becomes operational, the size of the ships will get larger, and much of the traffic going to Long Beach will divert through the new canal to the east coast. Large ports, such as Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC, Baltimore, MD and New York,NY will be obvious beneficiaries. But the smaller ports will begin to receive new vessels as well. Portsmouth, NH will not get the super-sized ships, but virtually all ships will be designed for the increased width of the canal.
The wider ships will challenge the Port of Portsmouth due to the restricted channel at the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge. Currently, for the largest of the ships visiting Portsmouth, the tug boats need to detach to get through the narrow passage under the bridge. Wider ships would probably have to bypass Portsmouth if we retain the existing bridge.
The proposed new bridge would have a horizontal clearance equivalent to that of the Memorial Bridge (approximately 300 feet). Even with the Long bridge at an angle to the channel, the port could accommodate the ships with a broader beam.
The proposed new bridge will be more expensive than the rehabilitation, and we will now have to determine how the increased cost is going to be covered. Later this year, when both Maine and NH have revived the Interstate Bridge Authority, the burden of addressing the funding issue will fall to that body. The bad news is that we don'e know where the money is going to come from. The good news is that there will be a group with the responsibility for figuring out how to address the issue.
Originally a railroad trestle in 1924, was replaced by the current combination rail/highway bridge in 1940. Built to alleviate the traffic congestion through Portsmouth and Kittery. Known as the Bypass Bridge or the Middle Bridge.
Provides critical service for:
Commuting workers to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS)
Carries 14,000 vehicles per day (2004)
Removal of the bridge could imperil the mission of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
The bridge has significant rust and safety issues. It was closed for repairs recently:
No pedestrian traffic allowed
May only have 6-7 years left.