PORTLAND – Local and state officials will gather Thursday at the Portland end of the new Veterans Memorial Bridge as it officially opens to traffic.

The $63 million bridge that connects Portland and South Portland over the Fore River replaces the existing span that was built more than 50 years ago.

The heavily traveled old bridge had been deteriorating for many years, prompting the Maine Department of Transportation to prioritize its replacement. The new bridge was paid for largely with federal dollars.

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, Maine DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt, First Lady Ann LePage and Jackson Parker of Reed & Reed, the general contractor, are expected to attend a 10 a.m. ceremony Thursday and offer remarks.

The Fore River Parkway will be closed to all vehicles except Mercy Hospital employees from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. During that time, the bridge, which includes a 12-foot-wide multi-use path, will be open only to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The new bridge will open to vehicles in both directions later in the afternoon.