Brunswick stocks panel as state inspects bridge

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BRUNSWICK — In a previously unscheduled decision Monday, the Town Council allocated eight seats on the Design Advisory Committee for the Frank J. Wood Bridge.

Brunswick was supposed to appoint members to the committee back when it was formed in June, but failed to act until the appointments were added at the last minute to the council’s Aug. 1.

Coincidentally, the 6-1 vote was taken the same day the Maine Department of Transportation conducted a two-day inspection of the bridge, which was scheduled after the DOT decided a closer look was needed following a routine evaluation in June. 

The additional inspection took place at a time when councilors and residents were expecting the agency’s preliminary plan for a new bridge.

DOT spokesman Ted Talbot said the inspection would probably inform the plan.

“To get to 2018 there are some repairs we need to do,” Talbot said. The inspection Monday and Tuesday was scheduled to assess “whether or not temporary repairs are needed” prior to initiating construction on the new bridge.

“We need to get even more hands on,” he said.

Topsham officials, meanwhile, wanted their Brunswick colleagues to hurry up and add members to the design committee.

At the outset of the Town Council meeting, Councilor Alison Harris proposed adding the vote to the evening’s agenda at the behest of a letter she received from the Topsham members of the committee.

The panel was formed to allow the two towns to provide input on the DOT’s plans to replace the historic green bridge in 2018. 

The DAC will now include representatives from the Village Review Board; the Planning Board; the Brunswick Downtown District; Brunswick Public Art; the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee; the Master Plan Implementation Committee; the Recreation Committee, and the Brunswick Development Corp.

Town Manager John Eldridge said it is now up to each group to choose a representative to send to the DAC. The groups were chosen, Eldridge said, based on their relevance to the bridge project and relationship to the area around the bridge.

“We identified people who are already on boards, already been vetted,” he said. 

Although the committee has already met twice this summer, its role is still somewhat undefined. 

Participating in the DAC “is not a way of stating (whether the Town Council is) pro- or anti- bridge,” Eldridge said. He reminded those in attendance that unlike Topsham, which in June endorsed the DOT’s intention to replace the bridge, Brunswick has yet to declare a formal position.

In fact, it is unclear if participating on the committee is stating much of anything at all.

While Eldridge spoke positively of the committee being a way of “giving Brunswick and Topsham a voice,” there was no elaboration as to what might actually be said. 

The influence of the DAC over the DOT’s plans for the bridge seemed unclear even to one of its members, although that may be because the meetings are still preliminary.

Cathy Lamb, of the Androscoggin Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk and a DAC member at large, said the meetings are intended to “gather information” and “concerns of the public” regarding the future construction, but have so far accomplished very little.

Lamb seemed doubtful that the committee will have a say in the bridge’s design, but it will offer suggestions. She listed pedestrian- and bicycle-related issues as a theme of the meetings thus far. 

After Monday’s meeting, Councilor David Watson implied the DAC might have a role to play in smoothing the transition between bridges. He suggested the construction may affect businesses in the area, especially in Topsham, where storefronts in close proximity to the bridge may be rendered to look like “a ghost town.”

“I believe that (DOT is) going to do what is least expensive,” Watson said, which he called “a sound judgment.” He noted that the bridge is a state project, and “it involves public tax dollars, not just Brunswick.” 

The DOT estimates that the cost of rehabilitating the green bridge would exceed the cost of building an entirely new structure, and would only extend its life for another 30 years or so. 

“They are allowing (the DAC to exist) … I’m not sure they have to do that,” Watson added.

The DAC plans to meet for a third time Aug. 22, despite the fact the DOT has yet to release its preliminary design report, which Eldridge said he hopes will be available in September.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Maine Department of Transportation engineers use a specialized bucket lift to view the underside of the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham on Monday, Aug. 1.

An engineer with the Maine Department of Transportation inspects the “green bridge” that connects Brunswick and Topsham.

Two engineers with the Maine Department of Transportation perform inspections of the Brunswick-Topsham bridge on Monday, August 1.