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Bypass US 1: Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, ME

Maine and New Hampshire's Bypass US 1, or "By-Pass" US 1 with the hyphen appearing in many of its custom shields, is a perplexing anomaly: not quite freeway (even though it was designed as freeway and was even part of Interstate 95 for a period of time) but not quite local road. To this day it remains a throwback to the early days of the Interstate system retaining the old railings and dated style it was built with, not to mention its unusual US highway shields with the word "BYPASS" and "BY-PASS" right inside with the number instead of being bannered (as seen in the photoessay).

US 1 BYP today is approximately four miles in length and runs between Portsmouth, NH and Kittery, ME. Portsmouth (21,233 [2010]), named for Portsmouth, England, UK (in Hampshire county, for which New Hampshire itself is named), was incorporated as a town in 1653 and named in honour of founder John Mason's home port of which he was captain. Becoming the capital of the colony in 1679, it was where Paul Revere rode to warn of the British, and after the American Revolution and War of 1812 became one of the nation's then busiest ports and shipyards. Overshadowed in the age of the Industrial Revolution by larger mill towns like Dover and Nashua to the north, the unexpected benefit was to preserve the town's historic character and today Portsmouth continues to enjoy exceptional tourism inflow for its historic districts. The modern city was incorporated in 1849.

Kittery (9,490 [2010]), for its part, is traditionally held to be Maine's oldest incorporated town. Named for the birthplace of founder Alexander Shapleigh (hailing from the manor of Kittery Court, Kingswear, Devon, England), it was first settled in 1623 and was a small unincorporated outpost when Shapleigh arrived in 1635. With the Pepperrell family, he and they established offshore fisheries and made a successful business in exporting the salted fish back to Europe. The settlement's population and fortunes subsequently rose enough to lead to its incorporation as a town in 1647, although originally the township limits extended as far inland and up the coast as what is now Eliot and the Berwicks. Its optimal river and seaside positioning made it obvious as a shipyard and the first vessels of the fledgling United States Navy were constructed there, including John Paul Jones' Ranger (1777); the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was subsequently formally established in 1800 by Thomas Jefferson (in Kittery, despite the name), and remains in operation to this day on Seavey's Island. Much of the town's architecture and habitations from the early and middle 1700s still survive.

The centrepiece of US 1 BYP is the Sarah Mildred Long bridge, crossing the Piscataqua River. As originally routed along what was once New England Interstate route 1, US 1 crossed on the dreadfully substandard original Memorial Bridge, opened 17 August 1923. This lift bridge, with a length of 1,201' and a raised height of 150', was not suitable for heavy truck traffic and eventually carried a 20 ton weight limit; even before the assault of time and salty air, it was recognized that a newer different crossing would be required. In 1940, both Maine and New Hampshire collaborated on the original incarnation of the Maine-New Hampshire Interstate Bridge, a larger drawbridge structure with a length of 2,800' and vertical clearance (raised) of 134', under the auspices of the 1937 Maine-New Hampshire Interstate Bridge Authority. Constructed as a double-deck truss bridge (auto traffic on the top deck and rail traffic on the bottom), the Interstate Bridge was noteworthy for two entirely separate moveable spans -- not just the central lift span, but a second, retractable portion of the lower deck on the northern Maine side to allow smaller boat traffic to pass on the margin of the Piscataqua without requiring the main span to be lifted.

In those pre-Interstate 95 days, the bridge was enormously successful at relieving traffic volumes through downtown Portsmouth. Although its original designation is unclear, in 1960 it gained not only its distinctive modern designation but also pre-eminence as the link between the two pieces of Interstate 95 in Maine and New Hampshire and the states' respective Turnpikes. To this end it received period upgrades for what would have been considered appropriate for a large interstate arterial (note lower case) of that era, but the construction of the 1972 I-95 Piscataqua River Bridge replaced the Interstate Bridge as the primary crossing and froze in time US 1 BYP's thoroughly anachronistic feel.

In 1987, the bridge was renamed the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in honour of the Portsmouth woman of the same name, who had been with the Agency ever since its creation in 1937 and ascended from bookkeeper to executive secretary, remaining with the agency as a consultant even after her retirement. A resident of Portsmouth until the last, Ms Long ultimately passed away at the age of 87 in 2004.

Despite no longer being the major north-south link, US 1 BYP remained an important alternate to the Turnpike for motorists as well as trucks unable to cross the Memorial Bridge due to its weight limit. In 2009, after these pictures were taken, the Memorial was found to be in further deficiency and the weight limit reduced to 10 tons. Multiple emergency repairs were needed until 2011 when the bridge was permanently closed, citing "too many problems in too many places," and it was demolished in 2012. The new bridge used two of the existing piers and was designed to mimic the old design, opening in 2013. During the construction period, US 1 BYP was the only crossing other than I-95.

The original Sarah Mildred Long Bridge weathered not only the increased traffic but a massive accident in April 2013 when it was struck by a tanker. The bridge was successfully repaired but the collision clearly demonstrated the need for a replacement and construction on a new Long Bridge started in 2015. Unfortunately, the old bridge's main lift section jammed in August 2016, locking the bridge closed. Because federal law requires priority for water traffic, the bridge was partially raised but could not be safely closed again, and the span was removed in October 2016 with the rest removed by April 2017. The new $158.5 million replacement opened in September 2017, an impressive concrete structure that nevertheless bears little resemblance to the old Long Bridge, and the photos here preserve the route as it was for much of its prior existence.

In this short photoessay, we will primarily concentrate on some of the exceptional features of the Bypass, particularly its sub-Interstate nature, its older build style, and the unique signage that accompanies the route in both jurisdictions. I hope to add more to this brief exhibit in future trips to New England.

Photographed July 2006.

Advance signage for the bypass separation south of Portsmouth. Note the usage of "Maine Pts." for the bypass.
Separation. US 1 exits to the right as Lafayette Rd to enter Portsmouth as Middle St. We continue now as BYPASS US 1.
BYPASS shield on the southbound side as we continue to the Portsmouth traffic circle.
Going around the circle on the west side of Portsmouth, we see Interstate 95 on the overpass and signage for the NH 16 Spaulding Turnpike (listed as TO US 4, but this is in fact US 4's modern terminus -- see Dale Sanderson's analysis).
Curving around towards the quasi-freeway portion and the Sarah Mildred Long.
This segment is divided carriageway with grade separation, today signed North BYPASS 1 TO I-95.
Interchange at Maplewood Avenue, the final NH exit. Access control is best described as partial; although many abutting properties are fenced off, many other properties are unobstructed.
This is best seen from the southbound view (note the traffic circle signage). At right is the gas station I stopped off at to find fuses for my car, and drove on and off the Bypass via driveway, not the signed exit.
Advance signage for the drawbridge.
Ascending the approach span. Note that we drop to one-lane-per-direction and lose the divided carriageway.
Crossing the bridge. Sorry for the tint here, this was a windshield shot.
On the Maine side, resurfacing was in progress on most of the alignment. This is the turn-off for ME 103, not configured as an exit and instead connected via local road. ME 103 serves Kittery, Eliot and York.
Looking back at the bridge, with commemorative signage for Ms Long on the pole.
The southbound turnoff to ME 103 is a bit north of the northbound one.
Side view of the Bridge and spans. The railroad deck is on the bottom and the retractable portion is at the extreme left. Regrettably I did not see the main or retractable spans open during the two passes I made on this route.
Maine state line signage, facing NB again, resuming the divided carriageway.
A very early Interstate 95 shield (possibly even one this alignment originally carried) mated with a very new BYPASS shield. Note that the TO and arrow are both considerably newer as well.
After a brief portion, this section degrades briefly into four-lane street, losing the centre median which becomes a turn lane, and even having residences with driveways.
Upgrade again to divided highway.
Exit for ME 236, which includes a former alignment of ME 103 near Berwick.
This exit is configured in a traffic circle, which the BYPASS crosses over.
The circle-exit complex is also shared with access to I-95. Notice that around this interchange, the distinctive BYPASS shields are lost on the exit signage and "bannered" instead.
This is also true of the I-95 interchange ...
... and the separation to US 1 BY-PASS at the traffic circle.
North of the traffic circle, US 1 comes up from the east to meet the bypass, as shown here on this perspective from US 1 (the bypass is in the distance).
End US 1 BYPASS and junction I-95 and the Maine turnpike.

All images, photographs and multimedia, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © 2004-2024 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. All writeups are copyright © 2004-2024 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying or duplication without express consent of the copyright holder is strictly prohibited. Please contact the sitemaster to request permission if you wish to use items from this page.

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