'Green Bridge' backers minimize historic tag setback

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BRUNSWICK — Advocates for rehabilitation, rather than replacement, of the Frank J. Wood Bridge said they aren’t concerned about the structure’s apparent ineligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

A representative of the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, a grassroots group advocating for rehabilitation, said the campaign for rehabilitation will more likely take place over project costs.

A draft analysis of the bridge’s eligibility was released online earlier this month by the Federal Highway Administration, and included responses to questions asked at an October meeting regarding its historic status.

The findings review the potential effects on surrounding historic districts, and don’t bode well for a listing on the register.

“The bridge, as an individual (structure)? Probably not,” Friends’ leader John Graham said after reviewing the draft.

When the Department of Transportation announced last April that it intends to replace the so-called “Green Bridge,” which carries Route 201 between Brunswick and Topsham, it triggered a series of reviews by state and federal agencies.

A review of the bridge’s eligibility for the National Historic Register is necessary because the crossing is listed as a contributing feature to the historic integrity of several nearby districts that are listed or also eligible for the register.

“It is the (Federal Higway Administration’s) understanding that the intent was never to add the Frank J. Wood bridge to the National Register of Historic Places,” FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox said in an email Wednesday morning.

“FHWA and MaineDOT agree that the Frank J. Wood bridge is historic and, therefore, subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. While the Frank J. Wood bridge is not eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, it is definitely a contributing element to the broader National Register-eligible Brunswick Topsham Industrial Historic District,” Hecox said.

A public hearing is expected to be held sometime in March.

The review process will explore what kind of adverse effect destruction or heavy alteration of the bridge will have on the integrity of nearby historic districts.

If the FHWA determines an adverse effect under Section 106, the agency will need to prepare an additional review, Hecox said.

The draft, in its present date, indicates that there would be adverse effects if the bridge is replaced. However, it also makes the argument that the bridge isn’t historically unique or significant, and that preserving a crossing is what matters most.

The draft states, “While truss bridges have been replaced due to structural deficiency and functional obsolescence, the Frank J. Wood Bridge remains ineligible for individual listing. It does not represent emerging technology, nor is its construction associated with a significant event or person.”

It notes the bridge has replaced prior crossings that existed while the adjacent historic mills were operational.

According to Graham, however, the historic review process is not where the fight for rehabilitation will be lost or won.

“(The register) is a moot point. It doesn’t really matter,” Graham said Tuesday, explaining that placement on the register has not prevented the demolition of historic structures in the past.

Rather, it is up to the Friends to prove rehabilitation can viably fix the structure’s existing problems.

“The biggest little win in (the draft findings of effect) is that (a rehabilitated) bridge, as it exists right now with the existing sidewalk upstream … (meets) the purpose of need,” Graham said.

The purpose of need outlines reasons for the bridge’s repair or replacement: “To address (the bridge’s) poor structural conditions and load capacity issues … and to address pedestrian and bicycle mobility and safety concerns,” according to the draft.

The FHWA gave the 85-year-old bridge a “poor condition” rating due to structure deficiencies in the steel trusses, which could cause collapse if not repaired or replaced.

While historic status may have strengthened their case, Graham said it is up to the Friends to convince DOT officials that rehabilitation is not cost-prohibitive.

Advocates for replacement have disagreed, citing early figures from the engineering firm TY Lin that indicate the cost of maintaining the rehabilitated bridge would far exceed the costs associated with the proposed replacement, a steel girder bridge.

John Shattuck and Linda Smith, directors of economic development for Topsham and Brunswick, respectively, both support the replacement option, citing costs.

The bridge still needs to undergo a series of reviews by federal and state agencies, according to Hecox.

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

Indications are the Federal Highway Administration may decide rehabilitation of the Frank J. Wood Bridge will have an adverse impact on surrounding historic districts.

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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

    Just a group of people looking to drive up long terms costs for the taxpayers.

    As the quickest and most utilized crossing between Topsham and Brunswick, a new bridge with lower ongoing costs and longer life expectancy is the proper solution.

    I like bridges. I worked on bridges for more than a decade and have close ties with people who build and appreciate bridges. In my opinion, the green bridge is not appropriate for preservation due to the mission critical location, cost factors, known design issues, and that it is not noteworthy. The fact that a few businesses have utilized the image in their marketing materials is a straw man argument and has no bearing on the appropriateness of the structure regarding preservation.

  • MobileMarine

    Sometimes saving the old is a good thing. There is a lot of history with this bridge and I feel it is worth saving. I am 71 years old and I can remember walking across this bridge as a teenager. I always stopped in the middle to watch the water.