The Frank J. Wood Bridge between Topsham and Brunswick is slated for replacement with construction to start as early as winter 2021. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

TOPSHAM — Even if a lawsuit filed against state and federal transportation agencies fails to stop the demolition of the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Topsham and Brunswick, it may delay the bridge replacement.

Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Bridge Foundation filed the lawsuit in early September. Court documents allege the Federal Highway Administration and Maine Department of Transportation “relied on demonstrably inaccurate information to artificially inflate the projected future costs of rehabilitating the bridge,” a press release stated.

The Maine Department of Transportation denied those allegations.

“We used the best estimates available at the time to give a fair comparison of the alternatives,” said MDOT spokesman Paul Merrill.

The Frank J. Wood Bridge carries 19,000 vehicles a day over the Androscoggin River on Routes 201 and 24B between Brunswick and Topsham. The bridge is to be demolished once its replacement is finished.

Merrill said last week that the new bridge is still in design stages. The lawsuit hasn’t delayed the project yet and the department hopes to move along as planned.

“I think it’s fair to say that at some point this will present a delay but right now we haven’t seen one,” he said. “But we’re also very early in the process.”

The project hasn’t gone out to bid yet, he said.

As of September, the new $17 million bridge construction project was slated to go to bid in August 2020 and a 2.5-year construction period could start as early as winter 2021.

The MDOT has responded to the lawsuit and is still working on scheduling next steps. Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge spokesman John Graham said Tuesday there are no significant updates.

Merrill said the transportation department’s attorney and the Maine Attorney General’s Office are handling its legal response to the litigation. The department had to hire a consulting firm to help prepare some of the documentation required.

“We don’t have a cost for that yet but we expect it will be a six-figure amount,” he said. “These things never happen quickly and it’s always expensive in the end.”

The 815-foot-long, three-span truss bridge was built in 1937. It was rehabilitated in 1985 and underwent more repairs in 2006. In 2016, the bridge was closed to large commercial trucks weighing more than 25 tons out of safety concerns.

The Maine Department of Transportation began studying options for improving the bridge in 2014, which included rehabilitation and replacement options. After several public hearings and undergoing federal review, the department has moved forward with plans to build a new bridge upstream.

The Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge have been fighting to save the bridge, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In 2017, Maine Preservation named the bridge one of Maine’s “Most Endangered Historic Places.”

The Frank J. Wood Bridge carries 19,000 vehicles over the Androscoggin River daily. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

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