MDOT: 'Green Bridge' repairs unrelated to replacement resolve

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BRUNSWICK — Maine Department of Transportation officials on Wednesday said repairs needed on the Frank J. Wood Bridge are not related to the agency’s impending decision about whether to replace the bridge in 2018.

But in the meantime, heavy trucks are being told to steer clear of the so-called “Green Bridge” between downtown Brunswick and Topsham.

In response to findings from a recent inspection, MDOT on Monday said the posted weight on the bridge will be reduced to a maximum of 25 tons.

At a press conference Wednesday on the Brunswick side of the bridge that carries Route 201 over the Androscoggin River, Bridge Maintenance Engineer John Buxton said the inspection revealed localized damage, specifically in the ends of the bridge floor beams and connection plates.

That means the structure can still handle large vehicles, such as cement mixers, fire trucks, school buses and ambulances. But vehicles with five or more axles will be prohibited and directed to a one-mile detour.

The emergency repairs will keep the bridge in safe condition for the several years it will take before the DOT will either replace or rehabilitate the bridge, which was built in 1932. Until that decision is made, the 25-ton weight posting will stay in effect.

“My job is totally different” from those making the decision about whether the bridge should be replaced, Buxton said.

DOT spokesman Ted Talbot called the maintenance a “separate action” from the decision about a replacement bridge. He later said DOT continues to have internal discussions about the fate of the bridge, and is “not at all sold” on whether it should be replaced or rehabilitated.

The indecision gives hope to members of the community, like The Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge. They want to save the bridge because its antique aesthetic and green color have acquired a symbolic status in the community.

Talbot said DOT will ultimately make the final decision, and will not be swayed by community opinion until that point. 

“We’ll engage with those groups and committees” – meaning the Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge and the Brunswick and Topsham-led Design Advisory Committee – “once those decisions have been made,” he said.

In the meantime, bridge maintenance is expected to begin this fall and will last a month to five weeks. Buxton estimated the cost of repairs will be around $800,000, with the potential to reach as high as $1 million.

He said most of the repairs will take place beneath the decking and will affect traffic minimally.

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

Maine Department of Transportation workers prepare to install weight-limit signs Tuesday on the Frank J. Wood Bridge, which carries Route 201 between Brunswick and Topsham.

A tractor trailer crosses the Frank J. Wood Bridge on Tuesday, two days before a new weight limit took effect due to structural deficiencies.

Spokesman Ted Talbot, left, and Maine DOT Bridge Maintenance Engineer John Buxton discuss the Frank J. Wood Bridge at a press conference Wednesday, Aug. 17, in Brunswick. The maximum vehicle weight on the bridge been reduced to 25 tons.

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Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.
  • TaxiManSteve

    Vacationland

    Keep the bridge. There’s a reason we visit Maine, “Vacationland.” Because it is quirky and different. Different from out workaday lives and living in other places that have become bland. New Hampshire has replaced most of these bridges, and many other heritage properties too, “In the name of progress.” We failed to capitalize on the image of our state created by the movie “On Golden Pond.” And so now we suffer as other places, you and Vermont in particular, have been more successfully in nurturing your tourist potential. Don’t be like us in the Granite State. Keep Maine Maine. Keep us coming in on vacations.

    Rep. Steven W Lindsey ( retired )
    Keene, NH.

    • Jimmy_John67

      Great advice! Maybe Brunswick should launch a new marketing campaign to attract tourists. I can see it now….”Come to Brunswick to see a dilapidated, rusty, green bridge! You may be the lucky visitor to watch it fall into the river!!” I bet with a slogan like that the ridership on the Downeaster train to Brunswick would double to 4 passengers every day!!

      P.S. NH is suffering due to lack of tourism? Considering NH has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country I would take that kind of “suffering” any day for Maine.

      • TaxiManSteve

        There’s more to life than cheap cigs, booze and fireworks.

        • Jimmy_John67

          Yeah no duh. However a balance can be struck between progress and preservation which allows for the introduction of a modern economy while still preserving a sense of place. Facts show that NH has done a good job of that considering it still has a strong tourism economy (even stronger then VT which you cited in your original post) as well as the infrastructure and population demographics to facilitate a very strong economy and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. The facts simply don’t support anything you claim. However I’m sure you won’t let pesky facts get in the way of your preservation at all costs viewpoint.

          • TaxiManSteve

            You’ve read too much of our propaganda on the “New Hampshire Advantage” or see the Granite State through the lens of booming Portsmouth, an anomaly if there ever was one. Try visiting the West part of the state, or better yet our depopulating North Country. Read this recently column to get a better idea of how things are here. http://www.unionleader.com/Charles-Arlinghaus-NHs-economic-stagnation-has-become-entrenched-07212016

          • Jimmy_John67

            Sorry I didn’t realize US Government Unemployment Statistics qualified as “propaganda” these days. I also didn’t realize a single town of 22,000 people could be such an anomaly to control the employment and demographic statistics for a state of 1.3 million people. I guess statistics aren’t your strong suit. Perhaps you should stick to proposing bills about kitty cats to the State Legislature. Finally newsflash for you…I was born and raised in Bethlehem, NH and I am quite sure I have forgotten more about Northern NH and the people there then you will ever know. Do yourself a favor and stop trying to one up me. At this point I feel bad for pointing out how little you actually know.

          • TaxiManSteve

            You don’t feel anything…You imagination found diminished

            We may have what looks like low unemployment in the Granite State. Much of the employment is low paying jobs without benefits. I have three jobs myself. And I watch the many many around me, family, friends, workmates, and watch as they struggle in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and the mistakes we made in the Granite State following the halcyon days following the filming of “On Golden Pond. The towns and cities struggling with the most basic of provide a minimum of social services…

            As to your living in the North Country, why aren’t you living there now since it is so prosperous? Seems you sought out greener pastures. And as a former reporter for the Berlin Daily Reporter as well as a columnist for the Berlin Daily Sun, I was there as we watched the Crown Vantage mill staggered through its last years. And prisons were built to prop up the faltering economy.

            As to you’re feeling bad I don’t believe you. You don’t feel anything. Not for this heritage bridge. Not for the mill nearby. Not the context. Not the host community. The river and the rock. Nor what makes Maine special for those of us who come to visit.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Little piece of advice for you from Mark Twain “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid then open it and remove all doubt”. However since you opened your mouth let me school you once again. NH has the 6th highest median income in the country. NH also the the LOWEST poverty rate in the country. What was that about only low paying jobs in NH and people barely scraping by again? Once again those pesky facts get you in trouble. I can see now why you were the laughingstock of the NH Legislature during your time there.

            As for why I moved from Bethlehem, here is a newsflash for you, people move and change during their life. Just because I personally no longer live there does not mean it isn’t a great place (which it is as I visit my family there often). Those of us who resist change are bound to be left behind or in your case humiliating yourself on the Internet while pining for a non-existent time from a fictional movie.

          • TaxiManSteve

            So yer cut and run, in other words…

            And get yer facts right Jimmy John. The laughingstock of the NH House mantle belongs on Rep Al Baldersaro, R-District 5, past and present. Al’s worked hard and shouldn’t be cheated of this honor.

            As to the sixth highest median income, this is do to the unusually large number of millionaires who claim NH as their home state to avoid taxes, but actually spend little time there except for two weeks at the summer house on the lake or a week in winter skiing. This doesn’t help most of us natives who actually live there. They don’t stimulate our economy much except to take a dinner once in a while at the Dolphin Striker Portsmouth.

            And for some more clarification, you talk of my “preservation at all costs viewpoint.” In this you are mistaken. But painting with the broad brush suits your argument. But now for the correction. I subscribe to the philosophy and writings of Robert Campbell, the architect and columnist for The Globe. He calls for compromise and the use of imagination when it comes to historic preservation, new development and urban planning. We don’t want perfectly preserved Old Sturbridge villages dotting New England. But we do want the best of remaining heritage reused and repurposed. A dynamic mix of both the old and the new, rather then razing all for the option of empty lots is called for. Heritage and culture matter.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Good point about Baldesaro. I will give credit where credit is due.

            As for your comments on millionaires, even it was true (it’s not) then your statement about the wealth trickling down is still false since NH has the lowest poverty rate in the nation. Can’t wait to see what kind of made up info you pull out of your backside to refute that.

            P.S. The Dophin Striker as a place for the rich and famous? When was the last time you were in Portsmouth? 1989? You really need to stop watching On Golden Pond 10 times a day and get out more.

          • TaxiManSteve

            July of this year. Aboard the gundalow as part of the Kittery effort to save The Wood Island Life Saving Station. I’m involved in Maine preservation projects as I see a chance for victory in the Pine Tree State that I don’t see in the Granite.

            And here’s some info about your much vaunted New Hampshire Advantage. http://www.unionleader.com/business/JPMorgan-Chase-to-move-600-jobs-out-of-Salem-092916

          • Jimmy_John67

            It took you a month to come back with a single article about a company consolidating locations? That is your big retort? Oh man, you really showed me!! Bwahhh haaa haaa ha!

      • SavetheGreenBridge

        zzzzzz…. The bridge isn’t about to fall into the river. It needs the MDOT to step up and actually do some proper work on it not just band aid it. I cannot understand anybody that tells me the proposed replacement is a good thing, it’s a bypass bridge like the one a mile down river, No charm, no wider and twice the price.

        • Jimmy_John67

          “The bridge isn’t about to fall into the river.”

          zzzzzzzz….are you a civil engineer with extensive experience in bridge architecture, maintenance and degradation? Didn’t think so. More likely just a normal person who thinks old bridges are oh so quaint. I think I will trust the analysis of the experts at MDOT on this one. By the way, do you think anyone uttered those same words in MN before the truss bridge there fell into the river in 2007 killing 13 people?

          • SavetheGreenBridge

            No i’m not a civil engineer. Unlike you, clearly, I have spent quite some considerable time researching this bridge, reading many inspection reports, speaking with experts in all fields relating to the bridge. I also place my trust in MDOT’s structural engineers, who by the way have stated that the bridge is worthy of saving. In a 2003 report six of them- (all highly qualified MDOT engineers) unanimously agreed that the bridge was worthy of saving. In fact even in their latest report, (August 2016, which led to the Bridge’s posting) if you chose to read it, you would see that the super structure, the steel above the deck is in good shape and could last 75+ years. The problem lies with the deck and below which their experts say can be replaced and give the bridge many decades of continued use.

            The MN bridge was a disaster and that is why bridges are inspected every 2 years. It is also why we are lucky in having an MDOT bridge department who are experts and posted the bridge due to the decks rapid deterioration. They agree that the deck fix done in the 70’s and patched in the 80’s was a poor choice because it did not channel the run off water away from the deck support members. New does not always better, if you read the 2015 report on structurally deficient bridges in the State of Maine there are 205 of them (at the time the FJW was not one) and that three of them where built from 1982-89!!!) MDOT is currently studying complete alternatives and until they publish their data I suggest we take your advice and wait until the experts with extensive experience in bridge architecture, maintenance and degradation provide us with their opinion. Yours seems to be based on fear.

          • Jimmy_John67

            And your opinion seems to be based on aesthetics only instead of public safety, long term cost to taxpayers and overall multi-purpose usefulness. Considering your screen name is SavetheGreenBridge it seems aren’t following your own advice regarding waiting for the experts at MDOT to issue their opinions and you have already made up your mind with incomplete information. You sound like you are new to the area and have way too much free time on your hands. Take it from someone who has lived in Brunswick for close to 30 years when I say that no one gives a rats rear end about that bridge. I look forward to your next meaningless crusade once the bridge is torn down.

          • Jason Coombs

            I had a good laugh one day at the expense of three engineers. Remember when the two people almost went off the Carlton Bridge? There was the uproar of ” we need safety barriers” so in come the experts. Great idea, concrete wall three feet tall. Of course when my father, the non college Vietnam vet, lowly bridge Maint supervisor asked them what would happen when two 22 ton counter weights( the green boxs on the bridge are filled with 1 foot pieces of railroad tie) come down on them? Then he pointed out that the loss of three feet of clearance would not make the tall ships that used to make a annual run into Bath very happy. A few came in at dead low tide and losing three feet of mast would not be taken lightly. Well, you could see the wheels in their mind turning, then a rather sheepish look as they went back to the drawing board. Expert is a term many use but sometimes it’s us common folk who know a thing or two.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Cool story guy! I will call you next time I need an expert on pointless anecdotes.

          • TaxiManSteve

            Because his experience, his life mean nothing to you, Jimmy_John. I suspect little means much to you. An expert you must be, your arrogance and condescension showing like spittle on your shirt.

          • Jimmy_John67

            “Sarcasm is the body’s natural defense against stupid”. – Aristotle

          • TaxiManSteve

            “Sneering and snark delivered from behind the wall of anonymity are akin to a teenage lout throwing eggs from behind a tree at passing cars, the doers of the world.”—Me.

            The man trying to save the bridge. The man your disparage as leading a “meaningless crusade,” is one of those doers.

          • Jimmy_John67

            The fact that you actually attempted a cogent response to my “quote” is hilarious! Thanks for proving my point and double thanks for the extra laugh at your expense!

    • Chew H Bird

      First, nobody comes to Maine to see or drive over a bridge that has outlasted its time. Second, the economics of repairing vs replacing this type of bridge do not make sense. Third, based on the use and need of this bridge, it make no sense at all to to create a situation where people will be inconvenienced any sooner than absolutely necessary regarding issues with this bridge. I spent more than a decade working on bridges in Maine, NH, and Vermont and while some are very worthy of saving or have historical significance, this is not one of them and if Brunswick cannot figure out how to market itself without this bridge we have some very serious problems with the people we have elected to local office. I mean we have a train station used by about 20 people per day that is ultimately costing up tens of millions of dollars, taxes that rise yearly, schools that are replaced every 40 years (or less) for tens of millions of dollars, and the town buys real estate, lets it degrade (after fixing it up), and then demolishes it (old Times Record building). MDOT will do what they want regardless of how much time and effort is wasted by people in Brunswick. Replace the bridge and move on.

      • TaxiManSteve

        These are the very reasons given for demolishing the iconic covered bridges in New Hampshire. Had we listened to your reasoning then, the Granite State wouldn’t have the 50 we have. Places like Swanzey, NH which has a couple of covered bridges but does not have natural advantages like Maine’s sea coast or the White Mountains of New Hampshire’s north country wouldn’t have anything for people to see without the bridges. These successor steel truss bridges will be valued one day like the covered bridges. They are part of what makes Maine unique. Save this wonderful structure. It can be restored to beauty. Save the Frank J Wood Bridge.

        • Chew H Bird

          The Topsham Brunswick bridge is a hulk of a bridge and hardly a scenic representation of a structure that is worthy of saving. I agree there are situations where some bridges should be saved for historical and scenic purposes, like the arch bridge that was demolished in the early 1980s between Bellows Falls VT., and Walpole, NH. However that bridge had been closed to vehicle traffic for some time and was a beautiful structure that added a string presence to the area. The Brunswick and Topsham bridge has none of the scenic qualities and serves as a heavily utilized primary connector that has no reasonable alternatives.

          The desire to retain historic bridges is great, but it needs to be tempered with a reality check and reasonable projection of usage over the next century. Just because a bridge is “old” does not make it a showpiece or of significant historic value (like our crib stone bridge).

          BTW: Did you know that Paul Harvey did a piece on the arch bridge of Bellow Falls?

          • TaxiManSteve

            No I did not know. But Paul Harvey would do something like that. Attempts to dynamite the arch bridge failed and finally it had to by cut with torches at ether end. It was the bridge that wouldn’t die, and was an embarrassment to the NHDOT which had said it was dangerous.

            I respectfully disagree that this bridge, and the nearby mill do not make for a scenic place. This bank wouldn’t have chosen it as the subject of its mural. See: https://www.facebook.com/FrankJWoodBridge/photos/a.1696834237221292.1073741828.1695579690680080/1735426200028762/?type=3&theater

          • Chew H Bird

            We can agree to disagree on the scenic and historical properties of the Brunswick-Topsham bridge. I will just comment that I love old bridges, (and even the very small culverts that were unfortunately replaced around Baxter Boulevard in Portland in the 1960s with less attractive design choices).

            As for Bellow Falls, the reason the bridge did not fall was a new type of shape charge was used that was supposed to make clean cuts across the beams to facilitate removal from the river. The charges worked too well and the bridge lifted up and fell back upon itself exactly where it was previously. C4 was then tried with no success. The bridge was felled from the NH side with a simple cutting torch and twisted as it fell creating a situation where picking it out of the water was a winter long project.

            BTW: A picture of the initial explosion was the front page of the Boston Globe…

          • TaxiManSteve

            Rumor has it in Bellows Falls that large sections of the bridge on the river bottom were not properly removed. But as the power water intake for the power plant is close downriver, no divers have verified this over the years.

          • Chew H Bird

            Divers had to verify complete removal in order for the contractor to receive the retainer on the contract…

          • TaxiManSteve

            One would hope so… But as a former diver, sometimes you find things that aren’t supposed to be there.

        • SavetheGreenBridge

          Hopefully we can save this bridge, I think given it’s size and location it is a prime candidate for rehabilitation. If Maine doesn’t start preserving these bridges soon they will all be gone, I think we are down to the low 20’s now. There will be regret one day.

      • SavetheGreenBridge

        Firstly ‘Chew’ people do come to Maine for it’s scenery, it’s charm and these truss bridges are part of that! The biggest reason my family chose to move to downtown Topsham was the historical feel and that included the bridge. Secondly rehabbing the bridge makes far and away more sense economically than replacement, please read the reports and not just what MDOT have to say on the matter (They have been systematically removing these bridges whenever they can, I believe we are up to about 55 since 1999) The ‘issues’ with this bridge are neglect, pure and simple. Because in my research MDOT have never seriously considered rehab but have always planned to replace they have been more than a little slack in their upkeep of this bridge. The deck is the main concern as it was poorly done in 85 with some very questionable drainage solutions. As for the last time it was painted no one can tell me! My guess is probably 85 and these bridges need painting every 20 years. I totally disagree with your comments about this bridge not being worthy of saving, it has not outlived its purpose!! If maintained properly this bridge can have another 75 years+. There are steel bridges in Europe much older. Just because it isn’t the ‘Golden Gate’ or the ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ doesn’t make it any less valuable to the communities it serves. I will do everything I can and more to see this bridge saved.

        • Chew H Bird

          The bottom line is the bridge was constructed during a period when rivets were commonly utilized and if this was not corrected during the last major repair it will need to be addressed. I suspect (assume) this is why the weight limit was lowered.

          Maintenance costs on truss bridges are significantly higher than with new concrete and steel designs and our MDOT is lax with maintenance on most bridges as far as I can tell. Most of the steel girder with concrete deck bridges were coated with linseed oil as part of contract completion with the purpose of MDOT re-applying every couple of years. Have you ever seen this happen? I have not and due to the low cost and quick application I suspect maintenance on a truss bridge structure would be performed even less.

          The location and necessity of the bridge make this a poor location for an old truss structure. Neither you or I know what changes will happen in the next century and to short change Maine taxpayers by rehabbing a structure with higher maintenance costs and lower weight limits that is the most direct traffic point between two decent sized towns makes no sense at all.

          If you want to save a truss bridge, I suggest finding one that is lightly used and not a primary transportation feed for emergency services and commerce. Wasn’t the bridge failure in MN a few years back a truss bridge?

          • SavetheGreenBridge

            Maintenance is always an issue, no question the State as a whole has been lax in making it a priority. The upper super structure has not been painted in who knows how long, it was not fully done in the 85 deck infill. There are clearly issues with the deck of this bridge and it needs complete replacement, as is called for in the latest report to get another 75 years out of the bridge. The main reason we are seeing the posting and the rapid deterioration is the run off water that carries the salt and dirt off the bridge has not been properly funneling away from the beams. This will be fixed once they completely replace the deck.

            The FJW Bridge is the ideal truss bridge to preserve! This bridge is exceptionally wide and tall for its age thus making it still suitable for modern traffic patterns. (MDOT in the early 80’s actually considered making it a three lane bridge it’s so wide) Once the deck is replaced there will be room for bike lanes, (the proposed new bridges travel and bike lanes are only 2 foot wider and that is before taking into account the space needed to add a safety barrier between traffic and pedestrians as there currently isn’t one.) In addition, lets not forget, there is a bypass bridge that is less than a miles detour!! The rural bridges are mostly the only way across the river for tens of miles and because they were built in a time when vehicles were smaller their travel width is usually only 20-22 feet and the highest are low on a lot of them. Again this bridge is an exceptional example of a truss bridge. (A temporary bridge can be built if the public is really concerned about being inconvenienced by a 5 minute detour.)

            Historical structures do matter to communities, it’s rather ignorant to presume otherwise. They provide a sense of place, are economic drivers and make our communities unique. If you read the Brookins Report (c2010?) on how main towns can grow and prosper it’s main point is to value the downtown and historical structures. That is what attracts new business and tourists alike. Though you are right, neither of us know what changes will come in the future. We can however learn from the past and the past teaches us that valuing our history and our identity do matter.

            Fortunately it is federal dollars paying for this bridge and there are steps (laws) that were laid out in 1966 to force the powers that be to actually study all options and present them to the public (currently underway).

            I do want to save a truss bridge, The Frank J Wood Bridge.

          • Chew H Bird

            I think restoring the “black bridge” would be far more interesting and much less costly, (even if only for pedestrian and bicycle use), and provide a more viable point of interest than the Frank J Wood bridge.

          • SavetheGreenBridge

            I also agree it should be restored, I also believe the FJW Bridge should be and that is currently more pressing. As I have been told both towns were offered the option to do repair works to the Black Bridge and both declined putting money into it, thus the lower deck was removed. I think you are underestimating the cost of fully restoring that bridge. There is also the pedestrian swinging bridge right next to it that the towns did get involved in restoring.

        • Jason Coombs

          Your somewhat on point but throw some blame where it doesn’t belong. Saying upkeep was spotty is easy to say if you don’t know Bringe Maint, DOT. My father has painted that bridge more than a few times. After 36 years with bridge Maint Div 5, he knows most of them well. The issue is having a 6 person crew to cover Div 5 which encompass’s from Topsham to Knox. The Carlton bridge in Bath would eat up a day just greasing it ( if I remember correctly from my time in Div 5 it’s 268 grease fittings, going up very steep stairs) and it was once every 10 days or so in summer, once a month winter. Then you have a low powered snow blower to clean the sidewalk ( walk behind) in the wiscasset bridge and so on. Needless to say, the main issue was and still is not enough manpower. Private contractors some will say, yeah right. We had to go fix the expansion joints 6 months after the new bypass opened connecting Brunswick to Topsham( they were installed wrong, snapped off.) That bridge is fine with some rehab. I’m trying to figure out how that plan to widen either side, what business is going to lose frontage.