BRUNSWICK — Residents of Brunswick and Topsham are being encouraged by the Maine Department of Transportation to comment on a proposal to install interpretive panels at the new Frank J. Wood Bridge.

After years of pushback from a preservation group called Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge, the decision was made by MDOT a year ago to go forward with a new bridge instead of preserving the current structure.

The federal permitting process was finalized on April 9, and, barring a last appeal by the Friends group by Sept. 9, construction of the bridge is set to begin in the spring of 2020 and finish in 2022.

The panels, which will commemorate the history of the bridge, are set to be installed in 2023, after the new bridge is complete.

One of the biggest objections to the historical panels was made by Phinney White, a member of the Friends group who wrote “Panels? We don’t need no stinkin’ interpretive panels!” in a response to a press release sent by MDOT.

“I liked the reference but did not agree with the sentiment,” Topsham Economic Developer John Shattuck said. “If they don’t prevail on preserving the bridge, it would be great to have their expertise to memorialize it. It would be wonderful if folks that have this knowledge would share that to help commemorate the bridge.”

All comments should be directed to Julie Senk at [email protected] or at by July 5. Once the content has been developed by MDOT, a 45-day window will be open for comments on drafting and designs.

Due to structural issues and costs, MDOT decided building a new bridge would be the most cost-effective decision. The existing bridge, built in 1932 by Boston Bridge Works, is one of the largest truss bridges in Maine. Previously, Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge has complained the plan for the new bridge does not resemble the current bridge. Members of the group did not respond to emailed requests for comment this week.

The difference between preserving the bridge rather than rebuilding is projected to be more than $10 million over the next 75 years, according to Shattuck.

“The new bridge would last 100 years,” Shattuck said. “But the issue is that the state is constantly underfunding road and bridge maintenance. We can’t keep up with the needs of our bridges, especially when this issue goes back almost 40 years.”

The project is set to cost $17 million; discussions about replacing the structure began in 2015. In 2016, the bridge closed to commercial trucks that exceeded a 25-ton weight limit, and currently sees more than 19,000 vehicles cross every day, according to MDOT. The new bridge would provide safer bike lanes on both sides of the road as well as 6-foot sidewalks and make the passage through the towns much safer and more accessible to residents.

Additionally, Shattuck discussed installing small parks in the towns and lookout points to visit around the river.

“With the installation of the new bridge, residents will be able to appreciate the beautiful structural history that you cannot access from the current bridge,” he  said. “We have received tremendous support from our elected officials in the Topsham and Brunswick town councils, which is a pretty strong indication on the public’s attitude toward replacing the bridge.”

Taylor Abbott can be reached at 780-9123 or [email protected] Follow Taylor on Twitter: @abbotttt.

This photo rendering shows what the completed Frank J. Wood Bridge will look like when construction is complete and the old bridge has been removed.

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