PORTSMOUTH — The U. S. Department of Transportation has obligated $20 million in funding for the replacement of the Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined together last Congress to fight for the bridge funding and were successful in helping secure a Tiger II grant in October 2010.
That funding was called into question in February as Congress began budget discussions.
Since the news came out that those funds could potentially be in danger senators from N.H. and Maine have been working to secure the project through quick obligation of the funds.
Throughout the process, the senators have worked closely with U. S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who visited the bridge in October to announce the award personally, and are grateful to him for his efforts to ensure the funds' obligation.
"As the commercial artery between New Hampshire and Maine on the Seacoast, a strong, safe Memorial Bridge is critical to the regional economy and will benefit residents on both sides of the river," said Shaheen. "Memorial Bridge is important to our shipyard workers and both states will also enjoy good construction jobs that building the new bridge will create. I'm thankful to Secretary LaHood for his work on this, and also to my colleagues in both states for theirs."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., lauded the work of the federal DOT on coming through with the promised money.
"Having been called 'one of the worst bridges in America,' I am pleased that paperwork issues have been resolved allowing this project to move forward," said Ayotte. "New Hampshire and Maine have already made a serious commitment to replacing Memorial Bridge, and I am glad that DOT followed through on its commitment."
Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said paperwork signed Wednesday afternoon should ensure funding for the bridge.
"As soon as those papers are signed this afternoon the funding for this critical bridge will be safe and can't be rescinded, no matter what happens with politics in Washington," Pingree said. "Replacing the Memorial Bridge is essential for Seacoast communities and that's why the congressional delegations of both states worked so hard to get this funding in the first place."
LaHood said the project is an important one for the economic health of the region.
"A new Memorial Bridge will create jobs and help move goods more efficiently from the shipyard to the rest of the country," said LaHood. "Our investment in this critical project will pay dividends to Maine and New Hampshire and provide an economic boost to the entire region."
State transportation officials had to have a number of documents approved in order for the expedition of funds to take place.
N.H. DOT Commissioner George Campbell said the funds were finally secured through a combined effort of two states and their congressional delegations.
"The critical TIGER II grant for the Memorial Bridge project has been saved by an extraordinary team effort that completed and delivered work in March that wasn't due until July," said Campbell. "This impressive cooperative approach at all levels has included the New Hampshire and Maine DOTs, both states' governors and congressional delegations, and three federal agencies.
"The success of this unprecedented effort will allow a critical project that connects New Hampshire and Maine to go forward. It's a tribute to the hard work and dedication to the project of everyone involved that this will happen."
The now secured money will go toward the replacement of the nearly 90-year-old span that has recently been labeled with an expected life span of just 1-3 years.