KITTERY, Maine — The U.S. Department of Transportation will award $25 million in grant money to replace the railroad infrastructure crossing the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge connecting Kittery with Portsmouth, New Hampshire, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Monday night.
The bridge rail component is considered a key supply line for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said she lobbied Vice President Joe Biden to support the grant when he visited the shipyard last week.
“This is fantastic news for Kittery and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which relies heavily on this bridge for the safe transportation of materials from the shipyard,” Collins said in a statement. “For years I have been pressing the Department of Transportation to fund this renovation. It is long past due that the bridge, which the Federal Highway Administration has classified as structurally deficient, be replaced. It is absolutely essential that shipyard facilities and infrastructure match the skill and dedication of the men and women who work there, and this project is an important step toward that end.”
The grant stops short of funding a full bridge replacement, which would cost approximately $158.5 million, according to King and Collins.
Federal transportation officials reported that competition for funding from the $600 million pot of 2014 grant money was intense. The department reportedly received nearly 800 eligible applications from 49 states seeking more than $9.5 billion in funding from the Transportation Investment Generation Economic Recovery — or TIGER — program.
“The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is a vital link between Maine and New Hampshire that supports regional commerce, promotes local economic activity, and — with the rail line into Portsmouth Naval Shipyard — serves our national security interests,” King said in a statement. “I am thrilled the Department of Transportation has recognized its importance and, along with the two states, will build a new bridge that can safely and efficiently serve the area for many years to come.”
The nearly 75-year-old Sarah Mildred Long Bridge carries Route 1 and a railroad more than 2,800 feet across the Piscataqua River. About 16,000 vehicles pass over the bridge every day.
In April 2013, a 473-foot Portuguese oil tanker, the Harbour Feature, got loose from its moorings nearby and crashed into the bridge, causing significant damage.
The states of Maine and New Hampshire, which co-own the bridge, subsequently sued the ship owners and settled the lawsuit for $1.5 million.