For the first time in a year and a half, traffic is moving on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, a main connector between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine.
The Maine Department of Transportation opened the new bridge on the Route 1 bypass Friday afternoon. It was a $160 million project that ran seven months behind schedule.
"It's been a long time coming," said Maine DOT Project Manager Jeff Folsom. "It's great to see this day."
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The original Sarah Mildred Long Bridge opened in 1940. Construction on the replacement bridge began in 2015.
"We tried to design this bridge here to make it easier to maintain," said Folsom. He said it is expected to last a century.
"It's going to be a safe bridge, it's going to be a nice bridge, it's going to alleviate a lot of traffic pressure in the area," said Lisa Corcoran, a manager at Jackson's Hardware and Marine. Her business sits on the Route 1 bypass, which was directly impacted by the construction and road closures.
Outside the store, the business marquee read "Sarah, It's been too long," and "So many long delays." Corcoan said the last year and a half has been frustrating, and taken a toll on her business.
"We were going from a four-lane highway [leading to the business] with 14,000 cars, to pretty much a dead-end road," she said.
The seacoast community was prepared for about a year of construction, but didn't expect the project to take this long.
A spokesman for contractor Cianbro said they could not comment on the delays, and Folsom said it was too soon to discuss those details.
"There will come a time when the project is done where we will examine that all," he said, adding that it was not one single factor that delayed the bridge.
There are three bridges between Portsmouth and Kittery. The Sarah Long bridge was considered an alternative to taking the I-95 bridge. An estimated 15,000 vehicles will cross the bridge daily.
According to Maine DOT, the new bridge has a higher clearance for marine vessels, which will reduce the number of bridge openings.