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Good morning. This is Governor John Baldacci.

Like many good neighbors, Maine and New Hampshire have a healthy rivalry, especially when it comes to football and hockey.

But when were talking about regional issues that affect our people and our economy, the rivalry ends and we work closely together.

This week I visited Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I met with New Hampshire Governor John Lynch.

The purpose of our meeting was to discuss the future of the three bridges that cross the Piscataqua River, connecting Maine and New Hampshire.

These connections our vital to the economy of both of our states.

The Memorial Bridge fosters the close relationship between Kittery and Portsmouth, creating jobs and supporting businesses on both sides of the river.

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, or the Middle Bridge, carries important commercial traffic that benefits the economy of the entire region. It also services the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which employs more than 4,000 people.

And the Interstate 95 over the Piscataqua River brings millions of visitors every year and is the major commercial artery for goods and freight coming in and out of our State.

The three bridges are the gateway to Maine for much of the country.

Fir the health of our transportation system, and these crossings are critical to Maine’s economy.

While these bridges are located in York County, their importance reaches every corner of the State.

Unfortunately, both the Memorial Bridge and the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge are nearing the end of their useful lives.

The Memorial Bridge must be replaced and the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge needs significant repair and may ultimately need to be replaced.

The I-95 Bridge is in good condition, but requires annual maintenance and upkeep.

Maine and New Hampshire jointly own the three bridges, and the total cost over the next several years for necessary work could approach between $200 million and $300 million.

Funding those projects will take a special commitment from Maine and New Hampshire, innovative thinking and support from the federal government.

In August, I supported New Hampshire’s application for a significant federal grant to help fund the replacement of the Memorial Bridge.

I recognize how important the Memorial Bridge is to Kittery and Portsmouth.

The replacement of the bridge has to be part of any plan that I would support.

It’s in the interest of both of our states to work together to find the best way to finance the work that needs to be done to improve and maintain these critical transportation links.

Both Governor Lynch and I are committed to identifying a cooperative and cost-effective solution to address all three bridges for the short-term and for the long-term.

You know it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about the bridges as a problem to be fixed once. Maybe once every 100 years.

In reality, we need to identify ways to rebuild and repair the crossings and maintain them well into the future.

In 2008, I took an aggressive approach to bridge reconstruction, repair and maintenance in Maine.

After the collapse of the Interstate 35 Bridge in Minneapolis, I developed a plan that would invest $160 million over four years in bridges in addition to the $70 million per year in our annual bridge program.

At the time, we had tentatively planned to invest $20 million each in the Memorial Bridge and the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, with work beginning perhaps as soon as next summer.

But recent bridge inspections show these bridges today are in much worse shape than we anticipated earlier and the costs are much higher.

Across the county, states are grappling with the problem of aging bridges. Maine has more than 2,700 bridges. Of those, more than 200 are 80 years old or older.

Over the next 10 years, we estimate that Maine will need between $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion in total bridge funding.

Under any circumstances, that would be a challenge. But it’s made even more difficult by the lingering effects of this terrible recession.

When we met on Tuesday, Governor Lynch and I created the Bi-State Funding Task Force.

The group is charged with developing funding options to address the three bridges today and to maintain them into the future.

The Task Force will report back to us in December with recommendations that I will present to the next governor and the next Legislature.

This is an important step as we continue our cooperation to meet our transportation needs and enable our economies to thrive.

I know everyone on both sides of our southern border would like a quick and easy solution.

But there isn’t one.

That’s why the work of the Task Force is so important.

The economies of both states depend on our ability to maintain these critical routes into the future.

We must replace the Memorial Bridge and secure the long-term health of the Sarah Mildred Long and I-95 bridges.

I am confident that by working with New Hampshire and the federal government we can find an approach that keeps the gateway to Maine open for years to come.

Thank you and have a great weekend.

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