New Hampshire lift bridge to Maine stuck in raised position, may not ever come down

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, seen from the Maine side, in the down position. The bridge is currently stuck with the lift span raised.
The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, seen from the Maine side, in the down position. The bridge is currently stuck with the lift span raised. –Wikimedia Commons

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge—a 76-year-old lift bridge connecting Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine—got stuck in the up position early Monday morning.

And officials say it might not ever come down again—at least in any meaningful capacity.

As Seacoastonline.com first reported, the Sarah Long Bridge (one of three connecting Portsmouth with Maine) first seized in the downward position Sunday morning, allowing cars to drive over the bridge, but blocking large boats from passing.

Around 1 a.m Monday morning, officials were able to raise the lift span to allow a large ship waiting in the Piscataqua River to exit to the Atlantic Ocean, New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton told Boston.com.

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It was then, Boynton said, that the bridge—slated to permanently close in early November—again got stuck. It has remained it the raised position since, with no particular timeline as to when, or if, it might come back down.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporter tweeted a photo of the stuck bridge Monday afternoon.

Depending on the seriousness of the malfunction, Boynton said the Sarah Long Bridge could be closed for good. Asked if the bridge may never be lowered again, Boynton said “it is possible.”

Boynton said it was also possible the malfunction was a “minor fix.” But currently, he said “the suggestion is that it is fairly serious.”

The cause of malfunction, as Boynton translated into layman’s terms, appeared to be a wheel in the New Hampshire-side tower, which carries the pulleys that lift the moving span.

Boynton said that officials from both states were working with consultants to determine whether it’s worth fixing the aging bridge, considering its scheduled closure in November. The nearby Memorial Bridge and  I-95 Piscataqua River Bridge serve as potential detours.

“Given the time frame, it wouldn’t be prudent to spend millions or hundred of thousands of dollars” to re-open the bridge for such a short period, Boynton said.

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Construction on the Sarah Mildred Long replacement bridge officially broke ground in January 2015. Boynton said it’s scheduled to open in September 2017.

All things considered, things could be worse.

Boynton noted that federal law states that water traffic take priority over cars, and that the worse case scenario was that the span got stuck mid-way, blocking both ships and cars. At least now, he said, it was open for river traffic.

The bridge, which was the second to connect traffic between Portsmouth and Maine, opened in 1940 and carries 14,000 vehicles daily, according to Boynton.

“It’s served itself well, served the state well,” he said.

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