The Frank J. Wood Bridge (#2016) carries Route 201 over the Androscoggin River on the Brunswick-Topsham town line. (Photo courtesy of Maine.gov)
A plan to replace a deteriorating and historic bridge on Maine's Midcoast is moving forward, the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) announced Jan. 30.
The agency said that it had received a final determination from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that allows the state to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge, linking the towns of Topsham and Brunswick via U.S. Highway 201.
The finding comes after a years-long, exhaustive federal regulatory and legal process, MaineDOT noted. That process has confirmed the state agency's original conclusion that the safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness of replacing the bridge is the best solution.
A preservation fight also had delayed action on building a replacement for the old Frank J. Wood Bridge. State officials have long fought to build a new structure at the site but were met with legal challenges from community members who wanted to preserve its historic significance, WGME-TV in Portland reported.
As a result of the FHWA ruling, MaineDOT began advertising the project for construction bids on Feb. 1, to last four weeks, with an eye toward awarding the contract soon thereafter. The Portland news source noted that the state agency expects on-site work to begin the late spring.
Once complete, Brunswick and Topsham will be connected by a reliable new bridge over the Androscoggin River, according to MaineDOT. The planned structure is located on a curved upstream alignment that will feature enhancements requested by a local design advisory committee.
Designed to last for at least a century, the new span will have wider shoulders and sidewalks on both sides (including pedestrian viewing bump-outs), parks at its two ends, special railings, lighting, and other design details, in addition to unobstructed views of the natural and architectural features of the surrounding Pejepscot Falls site on the river.
Old Bridge Suffering From Serious Deterioration
The current Frank J. Wood Bridge was originally constructed in 1931, and 92 years later, the structure is described by MaineDOT as being "fracture critical and rated in poor condition," although the transportation department first began the process to improve the crossing as far back as 2014.
More recent inspections of the bridge, including one last October, have revealed severe section loss and aggressive deterioration.
That led MaineDOT, in November 2021, to prohibit all commercial vehicles from crossing the current bridge, including emergency vehicles and school buses. Although no further traffic restrictions are imminent, the agency said it would closely monitor the bridge and take added steps, if necessary, to protect public safety until construction begins.
In 2017, a preliminary estimated construction cost of a new span to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge was $13 million. Due to the legal and process delays, as well as a concurrent market increase in construction costs, MaineDOT last fall estimated the rebuilding effort to cost $33.5 million. Before October's inspection, the agency had resigned itself to the fact the new bridge would be much more expensive than the 2017 estimate, as would the cost of other alternatives considered, including rehabilitation.
"It has been a long process, but we look forward to delivering the new bridge to better connect these two communities and the travelers of Maine," said MaineDOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note. "It will be safe, reliable and serve all users well, including motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists."
Once the new Frank J. Wood Bridge over the Androscoggin River is finished, it will be the seventh crossing structure at the site since 1796.
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