An aerial rendering shows what the new bridge to be constructed upstream from the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Topsham and Brunswick will look like when complete and the old bridge is removed. (Courtesy of Maine Department of Transportation)

TOPSHAM  — Although the state has, for all intents and purposes, said so long to the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham, one group is still digging in its heels to resist the removal of what they say is a historical landmark. Most recently, the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge criticized plans to install interpretative panels depicting the bridge and earlier crossings, outlining their history and significance.

“Panels? We don’t need no stinkin’ interpretive panels!” wrote Phinney White of Topsham in an email Wednesday, paraphrasing the 1948 film “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.”

According to transportation officials, the new $17 million bridge construction project is slated to begin in the spring of 2020 and be completed in 2022. The bridge will carry Route 201 traffic over the Androscoggin River between Topsham and Brunswick.

As part of a lengthy federal review to determine the historical significance of the existing bridge, the Maine DOT must follow “mitigation agreement” between the state and people interested in the Wood Bridge’s history. One of those stipulations requires the state to install the six outdoor interpretive panels and has requested public input.

“It’s like asking someone for input on an obituary of a person who is alive and well and could easily live for another 75 years,” White said.

John Graham, a spokesman for the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, said Thursday the group hasn’t met to form an opinion since the state issued its notice soliciting comments on the information panels. Graham said it seems premature.

Citing costs, MaineDOT announced in 2018 that it would be more cost-effective to replace the bridge rather than repair it. The nearly-90-year-old bridge has structural issues and was closed in 2016 to large commercial trucks weighing more than 25 tons.

The Federal Highway Administration in February issued an environmental impact statement for the proposed new bridge that allows the state to move toward replacing it. There is a window for appealing the finding until Sept. 9, though White said he hasn’t decided if he will appeal the finding. Graham said the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge are still discussing options.

“I’m not in a position to make a comment on it,” Graham said Thursday.

According to Wayne Frankhauser, the state’s bridge program manager, the transportation department is working with the design advisory committee to figure out where the interpretive panels might be placed. The committee is also looking at possibly installing additional panels beyond what the state is required to pay for, to highlight historic aspects of the area.

John Shattuck, Topsham’s economic and community development director, has worked with the design advisory committee since its inception.

“This is going to be a long process,” Shattuck said.

Shattuck said the signs may not be finished and installed until 2023, after the bridge is built. The state plans to issue a request for proposals for the bridge in December, so Shattuck said they’d like to get a sense of what design features the community wants.

Shattuck said the state has offered the towns new features around the bridge, including small parks in the towns and five lookout points for people to view the river. The bridge includes two of the lookout areas, wide sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides and a bridge railing and half-wall along the side with concrete structure imprints to reflect the mills.

“I think we’ve got a good plan,” Shattuck said. “We’ll see what the towns want to do to polish this up.”

Frankhauser said the new bridge would be built just upriver from the Frank J. Wood Bridge so traffic can continue to use the existing bridge during construction.

“For the majority of construction, traffic will remain unaffected; however, during the last few months of construction when the final connections to the new bridge and roadway are being completed there will need to be periods of one-lane alternating traffic,” Frankhauser wrote in an email

As part of a lengthy federal review to determine the historical significance of the existing bridge, the Maine DOT has to follow a mitigation agreement between the state and people interested in the bridge’s history, and installing the panels is one stipulation.

“Generally speaking, the law requires that when there’s federal funding involved, really in any project but specifically highway projects, that the public be consulted,” said Doug Hecox, spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration. “We like to demonstrate good faith and want the public’s input on various things.”

The state is asks that comments fort what should appear on the outdoor interpretive panels be submitted by July 5 to Julie Senk at [email protected] or through the state website at maine.gov/mdot/env/frankjwood/.

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