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Legal battle over new Brunswick-Topsham bridge nears end after court largely sides with the state

brunswick bridge 1.PNG
Maine DOT
The Frank J. Wood Bridge in Brunswick.

An appeals court has largely sided with the Maine Department of Transportation in a lawsuit over the fate of the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham.

But the court ruled on Tuesday that the Federal Highway Administration needs to look at the costs of the bridge once again before construction can go forward.

The Maine DOT originally planned to put out bids to replace the aging span in 2018. But a local group, called Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, sued the agency and called for the structure to be repaired instead. In its lawsuit, the group said that state and federal agencies relied on inaccurate cost estimates.

The appeals court largely sided with the state in its ruling on Tuesday. But it did order federal authorities to justify the use of their cost estimates — or use a different analysis, called a "service-life analysis," for the project. Both kinds of estimates showed in 2017 that building a new bridge would be cheaper than repairing it.

"To finalize this matter, the Court is requiring one additional factual finding, but we are confident that the result will be the same: the villages of Brunswick and Topsham are going to be connected by a new, safer bridge that better serves all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists," the Maine Department of Transportation said in a statement. "MaineDOT will work with our partners at FHWA to satisfy the Court's instruction in short order."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge also declared Tuesday's decision a win for his group. President John Graham said that when the Federal Highway Administration re-assesses the cost of the bridge, he hopes that recent increases in the cost of materials will show that it will be cheaper to repair the bridge instead.

"But now that the judge has kicked it back down to them, this is another opportunity for [the Federal Highway Administration] to just re-assess. And when they re-assess, we think the numbers are going to be the opposite," Graham said.

Meanwhile, the Maine DOT recently imposed additional weight limits on the bridge after a report from last year showed serious deterioration. The agency says that some vehicles have ignored the restrictions, which could force it to curb traffic even further, potentially only allowing one-way traffic.

The MDOT said that it expects to open bids on the project by this spring.

Corrected: January 7, 2022 at 9:54 AM EST
Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge are calling for the bridge to be repaired, not replaced.