State, federal officials to take comments about Brunswick-Topsham bridge

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BRUNSWICK — State and federal officials will host a public hearing on the fate of the Frank J. Wood Bridge Wednesday, April 5, at the Southern Maine Community College Midcoast campus at 29 Sewall St.

The hearing, at 6 p.m. in the L.L. Bean Learning Commons and Health Science Center, is a step in the Federal Highway Administration’s review of the bridge, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The Maine Department of Transportation triggered the review when it announced plans last spring to replace the deteriorating bridge that carries Route 201 between Brunswick and Topsham.

The hearing will give interested parties the opportunity to raise questions and concerns with DOT and FHA officials.

“DOT and FHA staff with expertise in areas such as project design and engineering, natural resources, cultural resources, and bicycle and pedestrian issues will be available in an open house format to listen to concerns, receive comments, and answer questions,” according to the meeting notice.

Project information is available at maine.gov/mdot/env/.

The meeting won’t be the first time the public has had a chance to join the debate over the future of the 85-year-old green, truss bridge.

Last October, the FHA hosted a meeting to discuss the bridge’s eligibility for the historic register, and representatives from the Friends of the Frank J. Wood bridge, the citizen’s group opposing replacement, argued for the structure’s significance to surrounding historic districts in the area.

But the Friends suffered a setback last month when the Federal Highway Administration released a draft analysis of the bridge’s historic status, indicating it was ineligible for listing.

Friends’ leader Phinney White has continued to compile and draw attention to public letters of support for the bridge in advance of the public hearing; he shared several by email that appealed to the iconic status of the “green bridge.”

But Friends’ co-leader John Graham downplayed the setback in February, arguing that the real fight for the bridge would take place over cost.

Engineers working for the state indicate rehabbing the structure would greatly exceed the cost of replacing the bridge with a steel girder crossing, but in February, Graham said he wasn’t convinced because “they haven’t provided us with a detailed breakdown of how they’re coming up with their numbers.”

Both town economic directors from Brunswick and Topsham oppose rehabilitation, on the other hand, citing the cost.

In addition to the FHA’s review, the bridge will undergo review by a number of other federal agencies, several of which will examine the potential impact the project will have on the surrounding environment.

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

The future of the Frank J. Wood bridge will be the subject of a public hearing April 5, at the Southern Maine Community College Midcoast campus in Brunswick.

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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.