$15-20 million replacement vital to yard’s future
A construction contract is expected to be awarded by the end of September on a new $15 million to $20 million bridge between Kittery and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on Seavey Island to replace the current 100-year-old bridge.
“Bridge 1,” as it is called at the yard, connects the yard with the mainland at the shipyard’s Gate 1, which empties out into Kittery Foreside. The rail line into the shipyard also travels over Bridge 1.
The replacement bridge project is expected to begin this winter and take two years to complete.
Due to the unique design of the existing bridge, completed in 1914, the replacement is being built in two sections and not all at once, said Gary Dion-Bernier, the shipyard community plans and liaison officer.
“It’s technically two individual structures,” Dion-Bernier said. “They can build half the road, and then the other half. So, presumably100 years from now, they can do the same thing.”
This will allow for traffic to flow just as it does now during peak periods in the morning and afternoon. At all other times, traffic will go through Gate 2 on Whipple Road.
The existing bridge to the shipyard was built at a time of great activity and infrastructure growth. In order to allow larger ships to navigate the Piscataqua River, in 1905 a 400-foot-long part of Seavey Island called Henderson’s Point was dynamited.
According to Public Affairs Officer Danna Eddy, that significant moment in the yard’s history, which eventually allowed submarines to come up river, was followed by a veritable building boom. The first dry dock was completed in 1906, the Portsmouth Naval Prison in 1908, and the naval hospital in 1913.
“Direct rail transportation was provided from the shipyard and extensive improvements were made to the shipyard’s utilities,” she said. “On the waterfront, locomotive cranes were purchased for hoisting and hauling, replacing the old method of block and tackle with oxen.”
While the yard repaired small ships, tugs and ferries, that all changed soon after the bridge was constructed. The following year, in 1915, the shipyard laid the keel of the L-8, the first submarine constructed at the yard, Eddy said.
The bridge took two years to build and cost $125,000, which included land acquisition for the approach road, Eddy said. It is a four-span, riveted girder bridge with concrete and granite piers.
This was not the first bridge to the shipyard. The first was built in 1825 several hundred feet to the west of the current Bridge 1, and was used for horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians, said Kerry Vautrot, the shipyard’s cultural resources manager.
Between the 1940s and today, repairs were made “to nearly every piece of the bridge: piers, girders, deck, sidewalk and guardrails,” former shipyard public works officer Cmdr. B.L. Weinstein stated in a report filed last spring. As those repairs were made, said Weinstein, “it informed the Navy that the steel used to construct Bridge 1 was high in sulfur content, making it brittle, and successful welding nearly impossible.”
While there is no structural problems with it currently, said Dion-Bernier, “any major modifications or adjustments are not feasible or technically viable without replacing the entire structure.
“It’s getting tired from the strain of the weight,” he said.
In his report, Weinstein said a 2011 bridge inspection indicated the bridge is “‘fracture critical,’ which means that there is no structural redundancy. If one of the steel member failed, the entire structure would fail.”
“Given our mission requirements, this is not an ideal situation,” he wrote.
Not only is Gate 1 the primary gate for the 4,700 workers at the shipyard today, it also supports the rail line. Spent nuclear fuel from the nuclear submarines repaired there is transported “on an infrequent basis about once a year” from the shipyard to the Department of Energy Naval Nuclear Reactor Facility in Idaho, Eddy said.
Weinstein notes in his report that if the bridge is not replaced, “loading restrictions will preclude rail traffic within the next five years, jeopardizing the shipyard’s mission.”
The new bridge
The old bridge is basically going to be demolished, one half at a time, down through the deck and the underlying superstructure to the piers, Dion-Bernier said.
A center rail and bumper system that separates the two decks would be removed entirely under the new design, leaving the entire width available for cars, a new pedestrian walkway and, for the first time, a bike lane.
Utilities to the shipyard, which currently are routed through that center structure would be relocated and replaced with updated lines and conduits, Weinstein wrote.
One of the key reasons for phasing the project, said Dion-Bernier, is “to minimize the period rail would be out of service to create a non-impact on shipyard operations.”
The bridge piers are going to remain in place, and will be strengthened by a series of small drilled holes, called micropiles, that are then filled with cement. The same approach was used on the new Memorial Bridge.
Because no new piers are being built, said Dion-Bernier, the project has received approvals from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and there is no involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers.
No archaeological sites are expected to be unearthed during construction, he said. Under the federal Historic Preservation Act, the plans have to be approved by the state of Maine historic preservation officer. While that approval is pending, said Dion-Bernier, documentation provided to date has not identified any problems, he said.
Areas of the shipyard deemed a hazardous waste Superfund site are not near Gate 1, he said.
Eddy and Dion-Bernier stressed that due to the nature of the two-part construction most Kittery residents should notice no change from the current peak-time traffic patterns.
From 5:30 to 8 a.m. and 2:30 to 5 p.m., the bridge will be open to one lane of traffic, as is currently the case; the remainder of the 24-hour period, it will be closed to all traffic. Any vehicles coming to the yard during the off-peak hours will have to enter via Gate 2, which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week during construction. Gate 2 is currently open during peak hours, but other than that, hours are limited.
The shipyard did send out a mailing to residents of Gate 1 and is preparing to send out another to those near Gate 2, as well.
While Kittery Police Chief Theodor Short said he anticipates additional activity at Gate 2 during construction, he said “I’m comfortable with where we are.”
“One of the things we’re probably going to see is more traffic at Gate 2,” he said. “While there’s nothing I can do to prevent that, we do have a cooperative relationship with the shipyard and I’m sure we’ll keep the lines of communication open.”