Brunswick-Topsham bridge decision unlikely until spring

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BRUNSWICK — A decision about whether the Frank J. Wood Bridge is added to the National Register of Historic Places is expected to be delayed until spring. 

But the delay will provide more time for work by a Brunswick-Topsham committee charged with making design recommendations for a potential replacement bridge, Linda Smith, Brunswick’s manager of economic and community development, told the Town Council Dec. 19.

The Maine Department of Transportation last April announced its intention to replace the bridge, which carries Route 201 from Brunswick to Topsham. It isn’t clear whether a place on the historic register would keep the Department from following through. 

The structure is under review by the Federal Highway Administration, which determines historic status and is expected to fund around 80 percent of the project, MDOT project engineer Joel Kittredge said in September.

Based on conversations she has had with the DOT, Smith said the FHA plans to hold a public hearing in advance of the decision about historic designation.

In an email, Kittredge said the FHA “is required to avoid, minimize, and mitigate potential effects of a project to a historic resource’s integrity or significance.” But it’s decision would not prevent demolition or alteration, so listing of the Frank J. Wood Bridge would not necessarily prevent its replacement, she said.

Opponents of replacement – who have banded under the citizens group Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge – are rallying behind the hope that listing of the 85-year-old green truss bridge on the register will persuade decision-makers to rehabilitate the structure instead of demolishing it.

In mid-November, residents of Topsham’s Summer Street – a registered historic district along the Androscoggin River with homes that overlook the bridge –submitted a letter arguing that removing the bridge would impinge on the historic nature of their neighborhood.

This argument borrowed logic employed by members of Friends, who at an Oct. 27 meeting portrayed the bridge as an essential component to the historic nature of the surrounding areas. 

In a phone call Dec. 22, Smith said she wasn’t sure how the MDOT could still go forward with a replacement if the bridge is added to the historic register.

Rather, she said the process is the “first substantive input” in a series of reviews that would come together like strands in a braid.

Although the Brunswick Town Council has not taken a position, Smith supports a plan that would replace the crossing on a repositioned upstream alignment because it would have the least adverse impact on local businesses near the bridge.

Based on conversations she’s had with DOT, Smith said replacing the bridge would decommission the crossing for four-eight weeks while work is done on the ties.

Rehabilitation, on the other hand, could shut off the area for months, she said. The overall cost of rehabilitation could cost nearly twice as much as replacing it with a concrete alternative over the course of the bridge’s life cycle, according to analysis by the engineering Firm T.Y. Lin International. 

The Topsham Board of Selectman endorsed the DOT’s replacement plan last spring.

Smith sits on the Design Advisory Committee, composed of interested parties from Brunswick and Topsham, and has spent the last six months collecting input that will inform design recommendations the towns would like in a new bridge.

Smith told the council on Dec. 19 that the postponed FHA verdict will give the panel time to develop and submit recommendations for the DOT; they hope to have them ready by March.

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

The Federal Highway Administration is expected to wait until spring to make a decision about adding the 85-year-old Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.
  • Chew H Bird

    Nice to see Brunswick living up to its reputation for impeeding cost effective progress.

  • Paul Whitcomb

    Rarely do I support “progress” or “modernization”: I usually go by the mantra, “Good enough is good enough”. The Wood bridge is not good enough. Brunswick, and the state of Maine, can do much better.
    Brunswick-side access to the bridge, by either foot or bicycle, is sub-optimal, and crossing it on bicycle is a risky proposition, altogether. The bridge, much like the recently-replaced Richmond-Dresden bridge, is an eye-sore, and we would all be proud of a new, cement bridge and the vistas it would afford. Let’s bring Brunswick up-to-speed on this.