Eminent Domain Is No Fun

December 17, 2009

Here’s a copy of a letter I emailed to the erstwhile Portsmouth Herald this morning. Nothing would be happening for at least the next few years, and it’s by no means a certainty that we’ll be affected, but even the possibility that our sweet little house that’s survived through both World Wars – not to mention the Civil War! – might meet its end in the next decade as part of a bridge expansion project is a sobering thought.

The situation is not without its lighter moments, however. The final minutes of last night’s meeting were dominated by an elderly crackpot who loudly posited that the ideal and obvious solution was to close the Memorial Bridge entirely and build a new one further up the river (this scenario was in fact considered and rejected a few months back).

When confronted by the considerable Kittery delegation about the catastrophic effect this would have on their town, he responded, “That backwater place? Nobody cares about Kittery!” I like to think he was roughed up by members of the Kittery Chamber of Commerce in the parking lot after the meeting.

**

Many thanks to the Maine-New Hampshire Connections team for an informative, thought-provoking, and well-run meeting on 12/16.

If it wasn’t an issue that directly affected thousands of people in our area, it would be a fascinating city-planning hypothetical: Two historic bridges, both nearing the end of their lifespans, both spanning two states. Each must be constructed in a way that permits the passage of large ships below yet still accounts for aesthetic, commerce, and community considerations on both sides. Neither can single-handedly accommodate all of the traffic borne by the other on a long-term basis. At least one should permit access for bicycles and pedestrians, and one has a rail line that cannot be discontinued. The impact on nearby historic sites – including a landlocked submarine – must be considered. Oh, and money is an issue as well.

The Maine-NH Connections team did an excellent job of explaining all of the options on the table, both those that have been rejected (and why) and those that remain (and why). It seems clear that the optimal solution from a historic, traffic, and way-of-life perspective is to rehabilitate both bridges along their current alignments, though there is no magic bullet. Regardless of what is decided for the Memorial Bridge, for example, it will be closed for approximately two years.

It’s important to remember that no solution can be considered in isolation without factoring in the impact on the other bridge. I (and I’m sure many others) didn’t realize before the meeting that, regardless of what happens with each individual bridge, four total lanes of traffic are required to accommodate present needs and future projections.

The Memorial Bridge cannot be converted to a four-lane span; this is an option that has been considered and rejected. If, then, the Memorial Bridge is converted to pedestrian/bicycle access only, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge must be expanded from two lanes to four – a proposal that could have significant residential and business repercussions on both sides of the river (full disclosure: my 160-year-old home is one of the ones that could be on the chopping block should this happen).

Regardless of whether you live or work near either bridge, this is a massive – and unavoidable – project that will significantly affect our way of life in both Portsmouth and Kittery for the foreseeable future, no matter what specific plan is ultimately chosen. Please get involved and make your voice heard.

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