Friday, April 10, 2009

Save Our Bridges! Campaign Gearing Up for April 28 Rally

Back in December 2008, Seacoast for Change volunteers met to discuss what sort of causes and actions our grassroots network should prioritize going forward, and a number of supporters expressed an interest in working on local issues. In response to those comments, I've made an effort to reach out to other community-directed organizations that share our commitment to progress. One of the top concerns raised by the forward-thinking leaders of Seacoast Local was the precarious state of the Memorial Bridge.

Seacoast for Change has joined an ad hoc coalition of Greater Seacoast non-profit and business groups seeking to raise public support for repair and rehabilitation, rather than replacement, of the Memorial Bridge and its upstream neighbor, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge. Both spans are in urgent need of attention -- the Memorial Bridge, which is ranked No. 1 on the NH Department of Transportation's "red list," is estimated to have a remaining lifespan of 5 years or less. Permanently removing either bridge from service would have a significant impact on the Seacoast area economy, with small businesses in Kittery taking the hardest hit. The Memorial Bridge also has historical, cultural, and recreational value for members of the surrounding community, and is a scenic attraction for local residents and out-of-town visitors.

Several recent stories and editorials in the Portsmouth Herald address the uncertain fate of the two lower Piscataqua spans (links to new and past articles on the bridge debate are archived on the New Hampshire Gazette web site -- you can find them here).
Plans to repair the Memorial Bridge for long-term use have been completed, and federal dollars to cover nearly all of the cost of rehabilitating both bridges are available through President Obama's economic stimulus package. These projects are shovel-ready -- work can begin as soon as state officials on both sides of the river authorize funding. NH DOT has signed off on the proposed repairs. Officials at ME DOT remain favorable to replacing the older bridges with a single, high-span structure to be built at an unspecified location between the existing spans. The older bridges would not necessarily be demolished, but would be closed to all cross-river traffic.

While particpating in the Save Our Bridges! campaign may seem unrelated to our usual efforts to organize in support of President Obama's policy priorities, I feel this project is entirely consistent with the spirit of his vision to rebuild and renew America by investing in essential infrastructure and promoting civic engagement. It's also a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with local groups who do not necessarily see their primary mission as political, but understand the importance of mobilizing popular support to solve public problems.

The Seacoast Save Our Bridges! campaign will formally kick-off with a lunch-hour rally on Tuesday, April 28. Visibilities are planned in Portsmouth and Kittery locations -- stay tuned for details. The campaign is also launching a petition drive and a letter-to-the-editor writing campaign (you can check out the PortsmouthBridges web site for updates and sign the petition online).