JOHN GRAHAM, president of Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge, shares his concerns about the structure’s future Wednesday.

JOHN GRAHAM, president of Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge, shares his concerns about the structure’s future Wednesday.

TOPSHAM

The cost of preserving history — and whether it’s worth it — was the center of debate over the future of the Frank J. Wood Bridge Wednesday in Topsham

The state says replacing the bridge with a new structure would cost less and last longer than rehabilitation. Those advocating rehabilitation see the “green bridge” as part of the community’s character and heritage.

Members of the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge hired an independent engineer to study the cost of rehabilitation.

“When it comes to really redoing this bridge, there is no question that it’s feasible,” said Friends President John Graham. “If somebody can tell me when that bridge was last painted, it was not 20 years ago, so you can’t tell me you’re going to rule out this option based on a Cadillac plan of future maintenance.”

“A lot of people here really like the character of the old bridge and that’s what we don’t want to lose,” said Kevin Hoffman. “We’d like to have the aesthetics and character of our town.”

The 815-foot-long, two-lane bridge spans the Androscoggin River and connects downtown Brunswick with Topsham. The three-span truss structure was built in 1937 and was rehabilitated in 1985.

In 2016, the bridge was closed to large commercial trucks weighing more than 25 tons out of safety concerns.

The case for replacement

While some speakers debated the numbers given for rehabilitation, others were concerned with increased future costs of maintaining the bridge.

“Anyone that thinks that any estimate of price, it will always cost more,” said Nancy Randolph. “Once you start picking it apart, it falls apart.”

“The swinging bridge cost more than we estimated,” Randolph said, referring to the pedestrian bridge upstream.

Some residents voiced concern over comments of bicycle traffic safety on the current bridge.

Others were worried about how rehabilitation would impact traffic and, in turn, local businesses.

“I can tell you that although you can’t quantify those business impacts, they are going to be significant,” said Curtis Picard, of the Retail Association of Maine. “The fact that is if the rehabilitation results in the 20- month closure of the bridge, between the two sides there are going to be dramatic impacts in businesses.”

Topsham selectmen in 2016 adopted a resolution that supports replacing the bridge.

“If we continue to keep this bridge, no matter what moves have been made and paint, this bridge is going to continue to rot away as it has over time,” Select Board Chairman David Douglass said.

“The support for this is broad, it’s deep, and it’s been carefully considered,” added John Shattuck, Topsham’s economic and community development director.

The Maine Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration prefer to replace the bridge with a new structure that would curve upstream with a preliminary cost estimate of $13 million and service life cost of $17.3 million over 100 years. It would keep 11- foot vehicle travel lanes, but expand the shoulder of the road.

The new bridge would have five-foot shoulders in addition to sidewalks on each side. The current bridge has a two-foot shoulder with two feet of open grid on each side.

An environmental assessment must be completed before plans for a new bridge can be finalized and construction commences, according to FHA Assistant Division Administrator Cheryl Martin

“The EA process will either support a finding of no significant impact, or indicate that an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) is warranted,” said Martin. “Once NEPA is complete the process will proceed with final design and then construction.”

MDOT press secretary Ted Talbot told The Times Record the Federal Highway Administration makes the final decision, which is anticipated in late spring or early summer. Construction is currently projected to begin in 2019.

Comments will still be accepted by the MDOT until April 11. The full environmental assessment is available at the town offices of Brunswick and Topsham or can be viewed at maine.gov/mdot/env/frankj wood.

MDOT plans

THE MDOT has presented four alternatives to the current bridge: • Alternative one — a new bridge on the current alignment with a preliminary cost estimate of $16 million and a service life cost of $20.3 million over 100 years. • Alternative two — a new bridge that would curve upstream with a preliminary cost estimate of $13 million and service life cost of $17.3 million over 100 years. • Alternative three — rehabilitation with existing west sidewalk. A preliminary cost estimate of $15 million and service life cost of $35.2 million over 75 years. • Alternative four — rehabilitation adding a new easterly sidewalk with a preliminary cost estimate of $17 million and a service life cost of $38.2 million.

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