Since its creation under the Economic Recovery Act of 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER Grant program has provided $122 million in funding for Maine.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, Monday invited U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to see firsthand the payoff of two of those grants.

Collins, Foxx and others spent part of the day touring the area around the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, which connects Kittery with Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and is in the process of being replaced.

That project benefited from a $25 million TIGER grant in 2014 specific to the rail portion of the bridge, which is vital to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, one of the biggest employers in southern Maine and New Hampshire. TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

“This is a poster child for what we should be doing in this country,” Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, said Monday. “We’re spending a fraction of the dollars we should be spending on our infrastructure.”

The old Sarah Long Bridge is rusted in many spots and this summer its lift was stuck in the open position, rendering it unusable. The new bridge, which is already under construction, is due to open next year. Maine’s Cianbro is the general contractor on the project, which is so far on time and on budget. Collins and Foxx later toured the Port of Portland, which has received two rounds of federal grant funding – $5.5 million in 2010 and $7.7 million this year. The city’s port, once neglected, is now thriving thanks to a combination of public funds and private investment.

“I remember passing this port so many times over the years,” Collins said. “The transformation has been nothing short of fabulous.”

The port’s major employer has been Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company, but many Maine companies, including L.L. Bean, Poland Spring and Bristol Seafood, have begun using the port.

“We have a country that is full of opportunity, full of potential,” Foxx said. “And when you come to a port like this, you see that potential being realized.”

Collins said she’s proud that Maine has received TIGER grant funding in each of its seven years of existence, but she agreed with Foxx that funding has not been adequate.

“I believe that in the long term we’re going to have to evaluate all possible sources of funding to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure,” she said. “We’re just not keeping up. This is a real challenge for our country.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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