After a history of closures, repairs and re-openings which mottle its 88-year lifespan, the Memorial Bridge replacement project has begun. The bridge which crosses the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine, is set for completion as early as July, 2013.
The "float-out", which is the removal of the lift span and the first stage of demolition, is scheduled for today.
Memorial Bridge Timeline
1920 - 1923: The Memorial Bridge was a constructed in joint between Maine and New Hampshire
First major bridge on the East coast with a middle span that rises to allow boats to past underneath, commonly called a "vertical lift" bridge.
August 17, 1923: The bridge was dedicated as an official World War I memorial for the state of New Hampshire. A plaque hangs overhead on the Portsmouth entrance and reads:
"Memorial to the Sailors and Soldiers of New Hampshire who participated in the World War 1917-1919"
Five-year-old Eileen Dondero cut the ribbon on the bridge's dedication. Eileen (Dondero) Foley would later serve as state Senator for seven terms, and eight terms as Mayor of Portsmouth.
1923 - 1981: A complete record of maintenance can be found in the Categorical Exclusion of the Memorial Bridge replacement project (page 16).
1994: Memorial Bridge is put on the New Hampshire Department of Transportation "Red List"
1997: Gov. John Sununu works on a plan to secure funds to rehabilitate the Memorial Bridge
N.H. DOT gives the bridge a poor safety rating.
1998: Memorial Bridge celebrates its 75 year anniversary and rededication.
Eileen Foley's granddaughter, Ellie, cuts the ribbon in the ceremony.
2001: Repairs are made to cables used to operate lift span after inspection found them deteriorated.
2003: Inspections resulted in emergency repairs. A 20-ton weight limit is posted and put into effect.
2004 - 2008: More inspections and repairs. Plans are made for replacement of lift span.
November 2008: Memorial Bridge makes the top of N.H. DOT "Red List". Maine and New Hampshire agree that the Memorial Bridge needs full rehabilitation, but disagree on how to pay for repairs. Estimates come back at $15 million over budget.
2009: Maine agrees to join N.H. in applying for federal stimulus funding.
The Memorial Bridge was listed as "One of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" with the threat of demolition.
July 2009: A ten ton weight-limit is posted for bridge traffic excluding vehicles outside of automobiles and trucks.
October 16, 2009: Memorial Bridge is closed by both the Maine and N.H. DOT to motor vehicle traffic for repairs.
August 23, 2010: An application to the TIGER II Discretionary Grant Program is sent to secure federal stimulus funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. See application.
November 2010: A new bridge design is proposed at a public hearing in Portsmouth. At a cost of nearly $100 million dollars, the construction is scheduled to begin in April 2012.
December 9, 2010: N.H. DOT announces immediate closure to all motor vehicle traffic as a result of significant safety concerns observed in an inspection.
December 18, 2010: Bridge is reopened following emergency repairs.
July 27, 2011: Bridge is permanently closed to motor vehicle traffic.
October 1, 2011: Eileen Foley, who at age five cut the ribbon at the original bridge dedication in 1923, tied the ribbons in the closing "Lift-Off" party also attended by Gov. John Lynch. (See photo gallery)
December 14, 2011: Gov. Lynch and the Executive Council approve the 81.4 million dollar contract for the Memorial Bridge replacement project which is slated to begin in late January 2012 with a July 2013 completion date.
January 9, 2012: Bridge is closed to pedestrians and cyclists.
February 6, 2012: "Float Out" is planned for Monday, Feb. 6., but is later rescheduled for the evening of Feb. 8.