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State moves ahead with plans to demolish historic Frank J. Wood bridge connecting Topsham and Brunswick

via Flickr
The Frank J. Wood Bridge on US 201 over the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham, Maine.

The Maine Department of Transportation believes it has cleared the last legal hurdle to its plans for replacing the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham.

The state says it has received an analysis from the Federal Highway Administration that confirms the long-term cost of rehabilitating the existing bridge would be 53% more than the cost to replace it with a new bridge.

A group called "Friends of the Frank J. Wood" bridge has mounted a years long effort to get the state to agree to rehabilitation. The group, the Historic Bridge Foundation, and the National Trust For Historic Preservation filed a federal court suit. District Judge Lance Walker ruled against them. The First Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling last January, upheld most of Walker's ruling, but ordered the Federal Highway Administration to provide more detail about its analysis of the relative costs and decide whether the 53% increased cost of rehabilitation would be "a cost of extraordinary magnitude" under federal law.

The Maine Department of Transportation says it now has that finding and will post it for 30 days for public comment.

"We have known for years that the cost to rehabilitate the bridge would be extraordinarily higher," says Paul Merrill, the transportation department spokesman. He says the state hopes to put the replacement bridge project out to bid later this year and see work begin before year's end.

The state first proposed replacing the existing bridge in 2014. Merrill says the years of delay have seen the cost or a new bridge more than double from a 2017 estimate of $13 million.

"It's not something we're happy about," Merrill says. "But we still need a safe and reliable bridge, and we need a new one, and we're going to build it."

Maine Public did not immediately hear back from "Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge" for comment.