BRUNSWICK — State and federal agencies jointly recommended a plan Tuesday to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge and build a new Androscoggin River crossing at a nearby upstream location.
The Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration released a statement calling the realigned replacement their “preferred alternative” that will “guide further analyses (and) is a major formal step in the project’s ongoing environmental analysis.”
The recommendation does not constitute the agencies’ final decision about whether the deteriorating bridge should be replaced, according to DOT spokesman Ted Talbot. The state announced its intention to replace the structure in April 2016.
The 85-year-old so-called “Green Bridge” received a “poor condition” rating from the FHWA due to structural deficiencies in its steel trusses.
Talbot said the final decision will be made in several months after an environmental impact assessment is completed.
But the recommendation means the FHWA will not focus on any other options in the upcoming environmental review – including an option that would have rehabilitated the 85-year-old bridge, which carries U. S. Route 201 from Brunswick to Topsham.
A grassroots campaign has been advocating for the bridge’s rehabilitation at public meetings and online.
The campaign has elicited letters of support from neighbors and business owners with a view of the bridge, to whom the structure’s iconic status matters.
Most recently, the group spoke out at meetings held over the last 11 months while the FHWA reviewed the bridge’s eligibility for historic preservation. It was ultimately deemed ineligible.
Talbot said the recommendation to replace the bridge was made based on input collected at meetings during the historic review process.
“The substantial determining factors for the identification of a replacement option over rehabilitation are the rehabilitation service life costs (more than double) in comparison to the replacement options, and the improved safety and accommodation of bicycle travel,” Talbot said in a written statement.
The agencies also considered environmental, cultural, social, and economic impacts, and transportation needs – vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian – in making their decision, he said. The calculus, he added, also included the cost of engineering, constructability, traffic, utilities, maintenance, as well as public input.
Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge co-founder John Graham on Tuesday nigiht said the DOT never took seriously the option of rehabilitating the bridge.
“MDOT’s upstream alternative has been their preferred outcome from the beginning. MDOT has never seriously considered the rehabilitation option for this bridge,” Graham said.
He also repeated prior claims that the department’s analysis is based on “unverified (cost and maintenance) assumptions” that served to favorably support its preferred option.
Graham said the group will continue to advocate for keeping the existing bridge during the upcoming environmental review.
The Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on June 27 endorsed a recommendation to replace, not rehabilitate, the Frank J. Wood Bridge, which carries U.S. Route 201 over the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham.