Friday, March 16, 2012

Navy Has Not Requested Funds for NH Long Bridge Rehab


PORTSMOUTH — The U.S. Navy has "not requested or budgeted" any money for its portion of the rehabilitation work on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, although a two-state task force expected the Navy to kick in $30 million.

The Navy goes even a step further. Lt. Cmdr. Alan Garas, a public affairs officer with the Navy, said, "should the rail line that is supported by the bridge structure not be available, the Navy will explore other alternatives."
The rail line underneath the Long Bridge deck services only the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The Navy has been the one unknown in funding a rehabilitation on alignment of the Long Bridge, which is expected to cost $118 million.

The Maine Turnpike Authority remains committed to buying the portion of Interstate 95 from the York toll plaza through Kittery from the Maine Department of Transportation at a cost of $28 million, said MTA Executive Director Peter Mills. The remaining costs were expected to be split between Maine and New Hampshire.

Work on the Long Bridge was expected to commence in 2014, although that may be delayed. The N.H. Department of Transportation wants to expand the center span or build a new bridge to accommodate ship traffic upriver at a potential additional cost of $40 million to $60 million.

Asked whether the Navy will commit in the future to the bridge, Garas declined to comment. But Paul O'Connor, president of the shipyard's Metal Trade Council, said don't count on it.

"I'm not at all surprised the Navy has said that," O'Connor said, adding the Department of Defense is facing $487 billion in known cuts over the next decade, and potentially another $600 billion in cuts by the end of this year. "There's not going to be much spending on anything."

The Navy's contribution to the Long Bridge rehabilitation project was laid out in the report of the Bi-State Funding Task Force, formed by both states' governors in 2010 to come up with immediate and long-term funding solutions for all three Piscataqua River bridges. The task force determined the value of the rail line in relation to the overall capital costs of a rehabilitation at $30 million.

"This value is derived by assessing the physical components needed for the rail portion of the bridge, $13 million, and adding in the value derived from the joint use (rail and vehicular) of the bridge," the report states.
The rail line is owned and maintained by Pan Am Railways of North Billerica, Mass. Company Vice President Cynthia Scarano said she did not have enough information to comment on Thursday, but did expect to be able to discuss the issue in the near future.

N.H. DOT Commissioner Chris Clement on Thursday said if the Navy isn't going to be a partner, "that's something Maine and New Hampshire are going to have to talk about. Regardless of which way it was going to go, funding has always been an issue. The Navy just announced major cuts this week."

Bruce Van Note, Maine deputy transportation commissioner, said it would be "premature for funding to be available at this time" from the Navy because the bridge project is still a year away. He said he'll work with New Hampshire and the two states' congressional delegations to "assure that rail service to the shipyard continues, as that is in the best interest of the shipyard and the regional economy."

But perhaps not, said O'Connor. "Don't forget, we have three ways to move material out — rail, road and water, or any combination of the three." O'Connor said he believes there's no correlation between the Navy's decision on the Long Bridge and any implication that it could be tied to a base realignment and closure process.

"We have workload going way out into the future," he said, which he doesn't believe the Navy will jeopardize. "However, the Navy decides to move the material, it will be done and will be done safely."

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