The Maine Department of Transportation expects to put its Frank J. Wood Bridge replacement project out to bid in early 2021 and start construction during 2021. Maine Department of Transportation image

TOPSHAM — Maine Department of Transportation says replacing the Frank J. Wood Bridge will take more time and money than expected, due to a lawsuit by opponents of the state’s plan.

The transportation department’s three-year work plan includes $19.8 million to replace the bridge carrying traffic over the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham. When the plan was released in January, the department planned to seek bids in September and start construction in 2021.

MDOT spokesman Paul Merrill said Tuesday the project won’t be advertised for bids until the first part of 2021. Construction would be expected to start a couple of months later.

Despite the state’s plans, the fate of the 83-year-old truss bridge hinges in part on a lawsuit filed in 2019 against the Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Bridge Foundation allege that both transportation agencies relied on inaccurate information to artificially inflate the projected costs of rehabilitating the existing bridge. The transportation department has denied those claims.

John Graham, a spokesman for the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, said Wednesday the lawsuit is still pending.

“We feel strongly that we’re going to win this in the court and MDOT will be forced to rehab” the bridge, Graham said.

The town of Topsham plans to spend $360,000 on a public space along the Androscoggin River as part of the state’s Frank J. Wood Bridge replacement project. Maine Department of Transportation image

“We will need to work through the legal proceedings, the remaining construction details of the project, and discussions and coordination with the project abutters,” Merrill said.

The state initially estimated in 2017 that the bridge replacement would cost $15 million. Merrill said there are many factors that have driven up the cost of the project, which was initially slated to start in 2019.

“It is fair to say the challenges to this project have contributed to the extended review process, and as time goes on, costs go up,” Merrill said. “In this case, the costs have gone up more than typical cost increases.”

The project should have all state and federal permits by this summer or fall, Merrill said.

Graham said the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge still feel the new bridge is not the right solution and will cost taxpayers more money.

Local public riverside projects

A joint Brunswick and Topsham design committee finished plans earlier this year for public park-like spaces that the transportation will help build as part of the bridge project.

Topsham residents were expected to vote Wednesday whether to spend $360,000 on the parks project, funded primarily through a tax increment financing agreement. Brunswick’s is estimated at $330,000.

In Brunswick, the project will enhance the existing Anniversary Park, which abuts the bridge and the river, said Sally Costello, Brunswick’s economic and community development director.

Topsham Economic and Community Development Director John Shattuck said the additional public space make the new bridge a “more functional, beautiful bridge and one that people  will enjoy much more.”

Brunswick plans to spend $330,000 to make improvements to Anniversary Park along the Androscoggin River as part of the state’s Frank J. Wood Bridge replacement project. Maine Department of Transportation image

Comments are not available on this story.