By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Sunday, September 10, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Hampton officials say they would rather see a new four-lane bridge without a lift than see the state pour money into rehabbing the existing Route 1A Hampton Harbor Bridge.
That is what they plan to tell the state Department of Transportation on Thursday during a public hearing on its plans to rehab the existing bridge.
Fred Rice, chairman of the Hampton Beach Commission, said rehabbing the existing bridge is not in the best interest of Hampton Beach.
"It will cause a slow economic strangulation and will stifle all other future plans of Hampton Beach," Rice said. "We don't think rehabbing the existing bridge will be any benefit."
The commission has spoken against the DOT's plan to rehabilitate the bridge, to no avail, fearing that any work done on the bridge will delay having a new bridge for another 20 years.
While the state would like to construct a new bridge that could handle the traffic in the area, neither the state nor the federal government has the $30 million needed to do the job.
Mark Whittemore, of the DOT, said the state can't wait any longer because the bridge, which was first constructed in 1949, desperately needs to be repaired. The bridge is on the state's red list, which means it's structurally deficient.
The bridge, officially called the Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge, is two lanes with a lift and is a traffic nightmare, especially during summer months. Tourists and officials have complained for years about the traffic bottleneck.
Rice said the state plans to go over three options to rehab the existing bridge -- ranging in price tags of $5 million to $10 million -- at the public hearing this Thursday.
And while all three options are good from an engineering standpoint, Rice said other considerations need to be considered such as homeland security, especially with the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant nearby.
Rice has already contacted several local, state and federal officials who seem to be on board with the idea of constructing a new bridge.
In fact, state Rep. Ben Moore, R-Seabrook, said he intends to file legislation to get a bond for a new bridge, with payments to be paid by the installation of a tollbooth there.
"When the bridge was first built, a bond was issued to pay for it by guaranteeing that it would be paid for by tollbooths," Moore said. "Once the bond was paid, the tollbooths were gone. Why not do it again?"
Hampton Selectwoman Ginny Bridle-Russell said she plans to attend the meeting, but is keeping an open mind.
"We were never promised a new bridge," Bridle-Russell said. "While we would like to see a new bridge, we can't always get what we want in these economic times. The state has to figure out what is the best use of taxpayers' money."