The new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge under construction on Monday. Maine transportation officials believe most of the remaining work required to open the new bridge can be completed within the next couple weeks. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald

Maine transportation officials believe most of the remaining work required to open the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge between Maine and New Hampshire can be completed within the next couple weeks.

Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, is now saying the bridge could open to traffic with restrictions well ahead of general contractor Cianbro’s most recent projection of May 10.

Last week, Talbot said the state was, “exploring all options” for opening the bridge earlier than general contractor Cianbro’s schedule. Talbot said Monday the options for moving up the opening date could entail a limited opening with lane closures to finish the remaining work or total bridge closures during non-peak hours.

“Several of the remaining items are scheduled to be completed in the next one or two weeks, and those that remain thereafter are weather (and) temperature dependent,” Talbot said Monday. “These tasks are routine in nature and pertain primarily to the bridge’s aesthetics. These tasks include pointing and patching concrete, placing a protective sealant on the roadway curbing, and touch-up paint.”

Talbot said of the remaining tasks a major one is the ongoing “roadway approach punch list,” which entails pointing and patching, spot repairs and excess epoxy removal on the exterior surfaces of the bridge approach structure. Production rates are low in the cold temperatures, he said. Other tasks include ongoing efforts to align the navigation lights so they are parallel, installing the railroad mitre rail and expansion joints in both towers on the railroad level and re-welding one of the barrier gate receivers after it was incorrectly made and could malfunction if struck by a vehicle, among a couple others, according to Talbot.

He said other tasks like applying a protective sealant coat to concrete curbing and applying additional coats of paint to the lifting girders will require warmer temperatures and in the case of sealing the curbing. Talbot said the work could not be done until both the air and substrate temperature rise above 40 degrees.

In a prepared statement last week, Talbot said the, “Maine and New Hampshire Departments of Transportation share the public’s frustration with Cianbro’s schedule.” On Monday, Talbot said some of the work could have been done on some of the concrete segments prior to their installation as one area where Cianbro workers could have expedited the project.

“Pointing and patching concrete is an example,” said Talbot. “Some could have been done while the segments were on the ground in our opinion.”

To get a better sense of the specific causes of the eight-month delay in opening the bridge, Seacoast Media Group filed a request under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) to examine public MDOT records on Feb. 7 and requested a waiver of all fees associated with the search due to the public’s interest in why the bridge was not open in time for its original Sept. 1, 2017 opening date and missed several projected opening dates throughout the fall and into winter.

Seacoast Media Group has initially authorized up to $300 to cover the costs associated with MDOT staff time associated with searching for relevant documents. The law allows agency staff to charge $15 an hour to compile a search request beyond the first hour of searching.

In response, MDOT’s FOAA officer and chief legal counsel Toni Kemmerle wrote, “We are reviewing our files for public records responsive to (SMG’s) request within the cost parameters that (SMG has) authorized. Please allow two to three weeks for this process to be completed. As a matter of policy, we do not waive fees for certain types of FOAA requests as opposed to others.”

On Monday, Talbot said to date $159,857,527.19 has been paid to Cianbro and the total value of the contract with Cianbro stands at $163,705,246, which is approximately $800,000 above the total budgeted amount of $162,900,450. The $162.9 million figure includes Cianbro’s construction contingency allowance of $4,400,450.

The contract allows for MDOT to levy $1,000 per-day penalties on Cianbro for every day the bridge remains closed to vehicles beyond the original Sept. 1, 2017 opening day and for additional per-day penalties if the entire project is not complete beyond June 1, which entails removing the construction trestle adjacent to the bridge, installing railroad tracks and landscaping on both sides of the span. Talbot has previously said no discussion on how the fees would potentially be levied, or if they would be levied at all, has taken place.

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