Hampton Bridge Makes 'Red List'

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State Expedites Plans For Structure Constructed In 1949

By Susan Morse

The Portsmouth Herald, Herald Sunday, January 23, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of The Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Online.]
The Underwood Memorial Bridge
"The Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge"
shortly after dedication December 1949

HAMPTON -- The state Department of Transportation has made rehabilitation of the Hampton Harbor bridge a priority, planning construction in two years.

While the state is determining whether to renovate the existing lift bridge or to replace it with a fixed bridge, there's $8 million in the budget for work to begin in 2007, according to DOT spokesman Bill Boynton.

The state Legislature last year moved the construction start time up from 2011, the original date set in the 10-year plan, Boynton said. This makes the work a priority, he said, especially since dates for other transportation projects have been pushed off -- "due to the fact we don't have enough money for the projects that are in the plan," Boynton said.

The Hampton Harbor bridge, officially called the Neil R. Underwood [Memorial] Bridge, has become a priority because of its condition.

"It's a "red list" bridge. It requires more attention," he said.

The bridge, built in 1949, is considered structurally deficient, though not unsafe. Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth is also on the state's "red list," he said.

Last May, bridge operator Alphonse Napolitano, 80, died after he was struck by a vehicle on the bridge. The Hampton bridge was put on the priority list for rehabilitation before the accident occurred, Boynton said.

The project is currently called rehabilitation because it may not be replaced, he said.

If it is replaced, said Mark Richardson of the state's Bridge Design Bureau, it will be with a fixed bridge that does not open for boat traffic. The state has hired engineering firm DMJM & Harris out of Manchester to study the cost of replacement.

."At this point, we're not sure if we want or would be able to replace it," Richardson said.

A fixed bridge would eliminate traffic congestion when the bridge is raised during the summer, a time when vehicle and boat traffic are at their heaviest, Richardson said.

One concern with a fixed bridge is the length of the approaches on either side of the bridge on Route 1A. "If the concept moves forward, we're looking at reducing the speed on the bridge, making it a 'hump' bridge, "Richardson said. "It would have a 40-50 feet clearance."

The hump bridge would give boats proper clearance while not creating large approaches on either side. "Conceptual work shows it can be done within the limits of the existing bridge," Richardson said.

While the entire bridge is in Hampton and the property just south of the bridge off Route 1A is in the Hampton area called Sun Valley, Seabrook would be impacted by a higher-level bridge, Seabrook Town Manager Fred Welch said on Wednesday night.

Seabrook just recently learned of the state's plan to make bridge construction a priority when Welch heard from the engineering firm calling to find out if Seabrook had any concerns with the project, he said.

The town wants more information and so far has been unable to get it, Welch said. Engineering plans are not being made available, he said. "As soon as we finish the warrant, we'll meet with (state) senators and representatives on issues," Welch said.

Welch is concerned about the high-level approaches reaching back into Seabrook. "A 100-foot bridge would have an entrance ramp to Hooksett Street," he said.

Another consideration, he said, is the potential for future equipment removal from the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant. Many of the parts for the plant arrive on barges and may not fit under a fixed bridge. Richardson said consideration of the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant will be considered in bridge plans.

While the bridge replacement came as news to Seabrook, Hampton Town Manager James, Barrington said this past week: "They've been talking about it off and on for three years."

Barrington is confident the state will keep the town appraised and will include Hampton in any projects that affect the town, he said.

"Certainly, if they're going to make a high bridge, we have to have approaches on both sides," he said. "We have plenty of things to worry about without worrying about the unknown at this point. I feel like they are taking into account our needs and concerns."

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