Maine DOT eyes Brunswick-Topsham bridge improvements

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TOPSHAM — Depending on availability of funding, improvements to the Frank J. Wood Bridge could go out to bid in 2018.

The Maine Department of Transportation on Wednesday hosted a preliminary public meeting – which filled a community room at the Topsham Public Library – to discuss future work on the bridge, which spans the Androscoggin River and carries Route 201 from Brunswick over to Topsham.

The department is looking into options for replacing or rehabilitating the bridge, according to Joel Kittredge, DOT project manager. A combination of the two is also possible.

“The project is partially funded to do enough engineering to propose final recommendations to address long term needs by fall of 2015,” he noted, adding that in the meantime, a contractor will make joint repairs this May and June, resulting in land closures at night.

Those joint repairs will address a short-term maintenance requirement, according to Kittredge.

While DOT’s latest cost estimate for the work is $8 million, that number is likely to change as the final recommendations are determined. The project has no funding for construction at this point, but the cost will be significant, no matter the final recommendations, Kittredge noted.

The department has been seeking local input about the project’s consistency with area comprehensive plans, concerns and issues, and discovery of local resources, according to DOT’s notice of the meeting.

Kittredge received mixed responses Wednesday regarding whether the bridge should be refurbished, or rebuilt altogether. Some audience members pointed to the historic relevance of the 1931 structure to its two communities as one reason not to build a new structure, while others noted that a new bridge could address concerns about safe pedestrian and bicycle access along the 815-foot-long, 30-foot-wide bridge.

“It’s a beautiful bridge,” Doug Bennett of Topsham said. “And I hope we keep a beautiful bridge. … It’s the gateway to two wonderful communities that are defined, in a way, by the vistas we see from that bridge.”

Scott Hanson of Pleasant Street called the bridge “a character-defining feature of our community,” adding that “I … strongly favor retaining that bridge if at all possible.”

“I believe we should build another bridge,” Nancy Randolph of Topsham said. “It needs to be for people who are in cars, it needs to be for people who are (on) bicycles, it needs to be for people who are walking. … Right now it doesn’t serve (any of) those people well.”

“Nothing is settled,” Kittredge said. “We’re here to get information to figure out … the right thing to do. We’re not even close to starting.”

Nearly 19,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, a figure that could increase to about 22,600 in 20 years, Kittredge said.

The superstructure and deck are both in fair condition, while the substructure is in satisfactory shape, he noted. The poor paint condition, floor beams impacted by chlorides, and shifting stones on a south abutment are among issues facing the bridge.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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The Maine Department of Transportation is looking into replacing or rehabilitating the Frank J. Wood Bridge, which spans the Androscoggin River and connects Topsham to Brunswick via Route 201.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.