BRUNSWICK — The Town Council is considering endorsing the Maine Department of Transportation’s plan to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge, commonly referred to as the “Green Bridge,” with a modern concrete crossing.
Councilors on Monday ended up tabling the item after hearing public testimony from residents on both sides of the issue.
The impact of any “resolution of support” is unclear, because the project is completely within DOT’s jurisdiction. Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said after the meeting that action by the council would be “largely symbolic.”
MDOT is recommending building a new bridge upstream from the current structure, for an estimated $12-13 million. Although rehabilitating the existing bridge would only cost $10 million, a new bridge would have a 100-year lifespan, the department contends, compared with 30 years for a rehabilitated bridge.
The department has taken public comment at several meetings in Brunswick and Topsham. DOT estimates construction of the new bridge could start in 2018.
Nevertheless, Town Manager John Eldridge said a council resolution could be used for “discussion purposes,” and to set up some kind of committee to suggest modifications to DOT’s plan that are in the best interest of Brunswick and Topsham.
The council will take up the resolution again at its June 6 meeting.
Some residents on Monday did recommend modifications. George Gilmore, of Middle Bay Road, suggested that a new bridge should end in a roundabout on the Brunswick side, to more efficiently move traffic to Maine Street or Pleasant Street.
But much of the public comment period was dominated by those skeptical of, or opposed to, DOT’s plan.
Topsham resident Phinney White said he did not believe DOT’s claim that a rehabilitated bridge would have only a 30-year lifespan. He said many historic steel truss bridges have been successfully renovated around the country, and are still in use.
He added that the bridge lies in the Brunswick-Topsham Industrial Historic District, which is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
White asked the council if it would have voted to tear down the historic Town Hall in the 1960s, a decision many in town still lament. “I don’t think you have all the facts on this (bridge),” he said.
Bruce Myer, of Gurnet Road, compared the Wood Bridge to the Eiffel Tower, the Chrysler Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge, saying, “These are (all) symbols of community.”
Bunganuc Road resident Steve Stern also brought up the Golden Gate, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Central Station, as examples of functioning historic preservation.
Citing his history as a civil and structural engineer, Stern said not all the information about the 85-year-old structure has been presented. He said he is organizing independent engineering evaluations of the bridge.
He urged the council to hold off voting on the resolution, and at the end of his comments, asked councilors if they had ever looked at the local phone book.
Hoisting the yellow book into the air, he pointed to a photo of the “Green Bridge” on its cover.
“This is what represents Brunswick,” he said.
Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman moved to table the motion by Councilor Jane Millett to adopt the resolution supporting DOT’s recommendation.
Councilors agreed to tabling, with only Councilor Kathy Wilson opposed.
Before voting, however, some councilors spoke about making a statement for or against the project. “(It’s) not our decision to make,” Millett said
Councilor Suzan Wilson agreed: “(MDOT) will make the decision they make.”
Still, after the meeting, Brayman said some kind of advisory committee, set up by the council, could influence the final design for the project.
She said a committee could discuss ideas like widening the width of the sidewalk on the bridge to accommodate food trucks, or incorporating public art.
The Maine Department of Transportation is recommending replacing the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham with a $13 million concrete bridge.
An MDOT rendering of a proposed replacement for the Frank J. Wood Bridge.