Residents working to see Memorial Bridge 'illuminated'

By Brittany Annania
On November 20, 2012

  • Memorial Bridge is currently under construction to incorporate 21st-century technology. Residents of Kittery and Portsmouth are working to make the bridge a lit-up landmark. Courtesy

Residents of Kittery, Maine and Portsmouth are working hard to bring an old daytime river icon to life at night. The Memorial Bridge Illumination Committee (MBIC) plans to raise nearly $80,000 to light up the dreary haze of the old bridge and transform it into a new nighttime icon over the water.

The Portsmouth City Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, commenced with a presentation by Ben Porter, a citizen of Kittery and lecturer in decision sciences for the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at UNH. The proposal highlighted a new and unique lighting design for the Memorial Bridge. 

The bridge which connects downtown Portsmouth to the town of Kittery, is currently under construction to incorporate 21st-century technology. Porter argues that the old lighting should be brought into the 21st century, as well. The bridge is set to be complete by the summer of 2013.

Porter said many cities feature their lit bridges as unique landmarks. Working with John Powell, the lighting designer of the Charles River bridges in Boston, the MBIC hopes to gain similar recognition with other well-known New England river sites.

"The Zakim Bridge in Boston appears on 50 percent of the postcards sold in Quincy Market, so it's generating business just by being there," Porter said. 

In a personalized approach, the committee entertained the possibility of changing the color of the lights in relation to the changing tides and swift current, a unique feature for the bridge and the river.

Ben Porter then posed a very important question to the council: Is it possible to illuminate the bridge and save taxpayers money at the same time?

Porter said absolutely. Unlike the sodium vapor lights currently on the plan, the MBIC plans to switch to LED lights, which are smaller and more direct. The lights are cheaper overall to maintain, require less energy, and will save taxpayers around $20,000 over 20 years.

Addressing environmental concerns, the committee said the use of LED lights would comply with the Dark-Sky initiative. The Dark-Sky Association aims to reduce light glare on the night sky through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. The committee plans to aim the direct lighting of the LEDs downward from the tops of the bridge towers to the water. Porter said this will prevent light trespass of the old lighting, which emits light in all directions, to locations along the river, specifically Bow Street businesses and residents of Badger Island, as well as to the night sky.

The committee plans to have a dimming feature on the lighting as well, to avoid disturbing waterfront residents in the late hours of the night, Porter being one of them.

According to Porter, the community is proposing to raise the capital cost of this illumination and the first five years of operation without any burden on the city of Portsmouth or the town of Kittery. The first phase of fund raising will commence this week with a target mark of $60,000, which will cover the sole cost of white illumination. After collecting pledges, the second phase aims for an additional $20,000 for colored illumination. The third phase will be installation and implementation.

"We're still waiting for exact cost estimates from the contractors. But we calculated that the operation cost, which is the utility cost for running the illumination, would be in the order of $700 to $800 per year to be split 50/50 between Kittery and Portsmouth," Porter said.

The committee has been working on this project with the help of the Department of Transportation, Archer Western, the electrical contractors and a broad reach from the Portsmouth Historical Society, the Chamber of Commerce and the community. 

Porter handed out documents that encouraged Portsmouth and Kittery to work with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation on contractual details pertaining to operational, maintenance and funding responsibilities. The committee has also been working with John Bohenko, Portsmouth city manager, to frame details of illumination operations. 

"The state will not be participating in any way financially," Bohenko said. "One of the things I discussed with the city attorney was the possibility, if the group is successful in raising the capital dollars needed for the illumination of the bridge, that there has to be a place to house these funds."

Bohenko further recommended setting up of a trust to house the donations. He explained that the funds from this trust would be used toward operating costs and that there is a necessary collaboration with Kittery upon sharing these costs. 

Porter said that the private donations could be declared on the taxes. The contributions will go through the Portsmouth Historical Society, which will be deductible for taxes. The money will then be transferred to the trust to cover operational costs.

The unanimous approval from the council will allow the committee to proceed in planning and fundraising. The Memorial Bridge Illumination Committee will reconvene at Portsmouth City Hall on Dec. 3 to discuss the setup of the trust funds. This event is open to the public to address questions or concerns. 

"There's a real excitement that's building up around this illumination project," Porter said. "It's absolutely possible."

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