Seacoast Online: Memorial Bridge closure topic for DOT official's visit to Kittery

Posted: July 30, 2011 | News Items, Senator Hill, Transportation
By Deborah Mcdermott
July 30, 2011

KITTERY, Maine — Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt is coming to town Wednesday to discuss the closure of the Memorial Bridge.

The meeting was spearheaded by the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce at the urging of state Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York.

Several matters will be key to the discussion, said chamber President Jeffrey Pelkey. Bernhardt is expected to explain the reason behind the decision to close the bridge permanently to vehicles and answer questions.

Just as important, Pelkey said, will be the Department of Transportation’s willingness to install signage from the other two bridges to downtown Kittery and other parts of town.

“It’s going to be tough to navigate Kittery Foreside for a while,” he said, “particularly for people who are from out of town.”

The town had been working with Bernhardt and Maine Turnpike Authority officials to create better signage on both Interstate 95 and the Route 1 Bypass, in anticipation of the Memorial Bridge’s closure, which was supposed to happen a year from now, before construction of a new bridge, expected to be complete in 2014.

Town Manager Jon Carter said news of the closure this week has given new urgency to the talks. Hill agreed.

“It is important that the state works closely with those who will endure this burden the most. We need to do what we can to help the residents and business community of Kittery and the other towns of southern Maine directly impacted by the closure,” she said.

Finally, the DOT will be conducting preliminary engineering work to replace the Route 236 overpass near the Kittery traffic circle. According to DOT spokesman Mark Latti, no money is set aside in the biennium budget that just passed in June for construction of the replacement.

Pelkey said it would not be good if that project were to occur any time before the Memorial Bridge replacement opens. Such a project could entail shutting down the access to Route 236, which provides ramps to both the Bypass and I-95.

“I begged him to please put that project on the back burner. I said, ‘If you close that, you’re going to make a bad situation worse,'” Pelkey said.

Pelkey said he’s delighted that Bernhardt has agreed to come to Kittery.

“He may not have all the answers, but his willingness to come down speaks a lot,” he said. “If he says he’s going to move up the timetable for the signage, all the better.”