The Bridge is back in town

Memorial Bridge 8-2013

Even though almost none of you have heard of the subject of this post, I'm still going to write about it. I'm so glad this bridge is back. This post has nothing to do with parenting. Today is a historic day for my little part of the world. To understand why, you need the back story. We live in Kittery, ME. It's right across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, NH. There are 3 bridges that get us there.

The I-95 bridge is a super-tall bridge, never needing to lift for boat traffic. It seems like this bridge will be here forever.

The Sarah Mildred Long (Route 1 Bypass) Bridge is a lift bridge, and is getting worse for wear. It was recently struck by a tanker. The boat came loose from the pier, swung sideways and hit the bridge with the horizontally with the left side of the boat. This bridge is getting torn down starting next year and replaced.

Finally, our cause for celebration is the Memorial Bridge. Completed in 1923, it's officially the World War Memorial Bridge (not WWI, because WWII was 20 years away). It connects the two towns over US Route 1. After close to 90 years of faithful service, it had started to see better days. It was exposed to salt water, so it was corroding. Pieces of the bridge were falling off and almost hitting boats.

We knew the end was near when it started failing safety inspections. They started changing the allowed vehicle weight, going down every few months until all that was left was passenger cars. The planning had started to replace it, with final shutdown in January of 2012.

Then it happened: another failed safety inspection in June of 2012, and they deemed that it was beyond salvage, unsafe for all traffic. The bridge was closed 6 months early. The good thing was that the replacement could be done sooner than planned. The bad thing is that businesses near the bridge hadn't had time to finish planning, and some would have to close permanently. No traffic past their restaurant meant no sales.

It would be former Portsmouth Mayor Eileen Foley, who at 5 years old cut the ribbon on the bridge in 1923 ceremoniously who tied two ribbons together at the closing ceremony. She's featured later in this story too.

In the first few months of 2012 we got to see the bridge slowly broken down, with each of the spans (3 total) being separated and put on barges, where they were floated to scrap yards. The new bridge was designed to look similar to the original, so over the next year we saw pieces that looked very familiar start to pop up.

First the Portsmouth span was built, and floated in to great fanfare and late night amateur photographers delight. Then the Kittery span was built and bolted in, with equal celebration. A few months later, the last piece was put together, and we suddenly had a bridge. A few late nights on the part of the work crew, and the center span was fully in place and lifting. We were getting close.

Thanks to little hiccups (like winter storms and hurricanes), the opening date this summer got pushed back from early July to mid July. The day was getting close. We were promised a bridge by July 19th. We also knew that with a project this size, there was a contingency plan. If the bridge wasn't open by the 19th, the contractor faced a $25k a day fine. A couple of weeks, and $500k in fines later, we had our shiny new $82 million dollar bridge.

We were told there would be a grand opening on 8/15. The good news came when they decided to move it up a full week, to August 8th. It went off without a hitch. At 11 AM today, we got our bridge. The ceremony started with the crowd walking from Kittery to Portsmouth, something that hadn't been done in 18 months. Next came a parade of cars from the 1920s, which would have driven over the original bridge. Then came the ribbon cutting. Remember former Mayor Eileen Foley? The little girl who cut the ribbon in 1923, the tied it at the closing ceremony? She was brought back, at 95 years old, to cut the ribbon. The cycle was complete.

Tonight, after dinner, we packed the kids in the car to do something they won't fully appreciate for years to come. We drove over the new bridge (along with hundreds or thousands of others).

The new bridge is an innovation, both in design and construction, with many "first of its kind" features. The next few months will be spent wrapping up the cosmetics. There is a project to provide lighting all along the bridge. There is the planting of grass. There will be a plaque dedication ceremony this November for Veteran's Day. Most importantly, we have a safe reliable bridge that connects the hearts of two great communities.