Starts & Stops

Maine balks at the cost of bridge repair

By Tom Long
Globe Correspondent / November 13, 2008
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It looks like the rehabilitation of the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth has fallen victim to the downturn in the economy after the state of Maine objected to funding half the cost of repairing the 86-year-old structure.

"It's a very expensive fix for a very old bridge and they balked at the price tag," said Bill Boynton, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

The project was budgeted at $44 million. Bids of $59.5 million and $70.1 million were submitted by private contractors on Oct. 9 for the repairs, which are being funded jointly by the two states.

"The repair of the bridge is on the top of our list of priorities, but it's not on the top of theirs," said Boynton. "It's not a great situation; Maine is a 50-50 partner in funding the project and they asked us to take another look at it and see if there is another way to proceed."

The Memorial Bridge is a vertical lift structure that rises to allow ships to pass below, on the Piscataqua River. It was built in 1922 and is the oldest of the three bridges that cross the river at Portsmouth.

"The repairs are intended to extend the life of the bridge, but Maine asked, and rightfully so, 'What is the life span of the bridge that is 80 years old?' " said Boynton.

Boynton said options for reducing the cost include $7 million for historical preservation. "They also asked us to look at a two-bridge option," he said. "There are now three bridges over the Piscataqua River in a very short space."

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and the Interstate 95 bridge are the other spans over the river. "The Long Bridge and Memorial Bridge are both drawbridges, and they cost $700,000 apiece a year just to operate and maintain, so there would be a savings there," said Boynton. "But the Long Bridge also carries trains over the river that sometimes haul nuclear waste out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard."

Boynton said a solution will be found. "We're not going to walk away from it. We'll have to take another look at it, and come up with a new strategy."

Fares and parking fees on the rise It looks like fares will be going up on the Downeaster train, which travels from Portland, Maine, to Boston with stops in Durham and Exeter, N.H., and Haverhill. Plans call for one-way fares to increase by $2 in some markets and for multi-ride passes in some markets to go up 10 percent. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Amtrak service, is taking public comments through the end of the month on the proposed fares. A final determination on the increases will be made in December, with fares slated to rise on Jan. 1.

Some Greater Boston commuters also will have to dig deeper on Saturday, when rates increase at MBTA parking lots.

The rates will increase by $2 a day, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said last week.

"The MBTA is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges," said Pesaturo. "It is critical that the authority grow new and existing nonfare revenue sources to maintain current levels of services."

The rates haven't increased in several years. "Daily parking rates at all MBTA commuter rail lots were level for nearly six years, and at most subway stations level for three years," said Pesaturo.

With some 43,000 spaces at 150 locations, the MBTA says it is the largest owner of off-street paid parking in New England. In 2007, some 9 million vehicles were parked at MBTA lots or garages.

The new parking rates are $7 a day at subway parking garages, $5 to $6 a day at subway surface lots, and $4 a day at commuter rail surface lots.

"The rates remain below daily parking rates charged in Boston and continue to be highly competitive with privately owned parking facilities near many MBTA subway and commuter rail stations," said Pesaturo.

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