Maine bills aim to help businesses hurt by Memorial Bridge shutdown | Foster's Daily Democrat

Posted: October 19, 2011 | News Items, Senator Hill, Transportation

KITTERY, Maine — Two Maine bills aimed to help Kittery and Eliot businesses during the Memorial Bridge closure are expected to reach the state Legislature.

“Since the Memorial Bridge shut down, there have been ongoing discussions with town and business officials to determine how the state can help minimize the impact of the bridge closure,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York County. “As a result of these conversations, I have submitted legislation to bring some additional assistance.”

The Maine Legislature has began working on legislative work for 2012, while working on 131 bills carried over from the last session that ended on June 28.

One new proposed bill intends to permit signage along Interstate 95 for Kittery and its local businesses. The signs are expected to provide directions to locations that are no longer accessible by the Memorial Bridge.

“The people and businesses of Kittery are experiencing the negative effect of the bridge closure and this bill will give them a little boost by helping visitors, especially those from out of state, find their destination,” Hill said. “The bridge may be closed, but the community is still open for business.”

The bill would not allow billboard-style signs, which are prohibited by state law, on the area.

Another bill intends to provide shuttles from New Hampshire to Maine using the COAST bus system out of New Hampshire.

In the last few years, the Memorial Bridge, which spans between Portsmouth and Kittery, has seen significant deterioration, causing the Department of Transportation in June to permanently close the bridge to vehicular traffic after a study showed rust overtook the gusset plates.

The closure has caused the neighboring communities to respond with worry of affecting the businesses across the borders. Officials from both states said they will work to help bring business both into Maine and New Hampshire.

COAST only provides Maine services for a mile area in Berwick for riders on the Somersworth line. Jeremy LaRose, manager of operations and planning, said expanding and providing services in Maine across the Piscataqua River would require insurance support from Maine.

The company does not fall under Maine’s immunity from tort claim lawsuits because it is located in New Hampshire. Its current insurance lets it continue its small route on the Somersworth line after learning of an insurance oversight, LaRose said. With a “low risk exposure” for the current service, the company is continuing the route, which it has served since the late 1980s.

“If we were to expand service into Maine, we don’t have the same liability protection in Maine as we do in New Hampshire,” he said.

Without protection in Maine, the transit business faces insurance issues and remains reluctant to expand its services. Right now, Maine transit organizations are protected from tort claim lawsuits.

“The service is important in helping Maine and New Hampshire residents receive transportation needs to the Towns of Kittery, Eliot and the Berwicks as well as the shopping outlets, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,” Hill said. “All this bill is trying to do is work collaboratively with our neighboring communities, who just happen to be across the state line, to provide a service that is an important part of surviving the bridge closure.”

The bill is still in its proposal phase and LaRose said the transportation across the Piscataqua River isn’t a definite. Bill requests will be voted on Monday, Oct. 31 and addressed in the Second Regular Session on Jan. 4, 2012.

By RONI REINO

Foster’s Daily Democrat