Maintenence crews working to repair broken N.H.-Maine lift bridge

A lift bridge connecting Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine, that became stuck on Wednesday, blocking both vehicular and marine traffic, should be up and running on Monday, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, built in 1940, has “issues during the cold weather,” said New Hampshire DOT spokesman Bill Boynton, who explained that the bridge became stuck during a routine lift to exercise the bridge at about 1:20 p.m. on Wednesday.

Likely caused by an electrical or mechanical problem, the center lift span of the bridge became out of skew and fell off its tracks while being lowered, causing structural steele damage and getting stuck about a foot away from the road, said Boynton.

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With the closure of the bridge, the middle of three connecting Portsmouth and Kittery, and the Memorial Bridge that runs along Route 1 shut down until July while it is being replaced, drivers can only use the I-95 high bridge to get from one side to the other, according to Boynton, who added that it hasn’t caused too much disruption to the flow of traffic, more of an inconvenience.

The bigger concern had been the marine traffic being held up because there are no alternative routes and some vessels were carrying heating oil, he said, but workers were able to lift the bridge up at 6:40 Saturday night, allowing boats to pass through.

To accomplish this, maintainence workers, who began working in the freezing conditions early Thursday morning, had to get the lift span back on its tracks, lower the bridge to street level, and remove much of the damaged steele before they were able to lift it back up.

Boynton said the workers have dealt with “very very cold [temperatures], confined space, and high winds—very difficult working conditions, but they just kept pluggin away.”

The bridge will remain in the upright position until sometime after 2 p.m. today, said Boynton. Then, workers will do extensive testing to ensure the bridge doesn’t get stuck again.

“The goal is to have the bridge fully operational tomorrow, to vehicular and marine traffic,” said Boynton, who acknowledged that it would eventually have to be replaced altogether.

“It’s an old bridge, so [problems] keep popping up,” he said. “[We’ll] try to keep it in working order until it can be replaced,” which won’t be for a number of years. It is the number one “red-listed” bridge, meaning it is a top priority for repairs.

“We’re working with Maine [which co-owns the bridge] toward an eventual placement,” said Boynton. The project, which is in the planning stages, will cost an estimated $170 million.

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