An inspection of the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham by the Maine Department of Transportation in September revealed further corrosion damage to the bridge structure as seen in this photo. Courtesy of Maine Department of Transportation

TOPSHAM — A lawsuit filed to halt the planned Frank J. Wood Bridge replacement is awaiting a decision from a federal court judge as the 1932 steel truss bridge continues to deteriorate.

Despite finding serious corrosion and deterioration during a recent inspection, the Maine Department of Transportation said the bridge is still safe.

The MDOT’s current three-year work plan includes $19.8 million to replace the bridge carrying Route 24 and U.S. Route 201 traffic over the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham.

Now, the fate of the 88-year-old truss bridge hinges in part on a lawsuit filed in 2019 against MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. The lawsuit was filed by the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the Historic Bridge Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States.

The bridge advocates argue in the lawsuit that it would cost less to renovate the Frank J. Wood Bridge than to build a new bridge and less to maintain it than estimated by the MDOT. The MDOT argues the bridge replacement is the more economically feasible option.

MDOT spokesman Paul Merrill said in July the project will be advertised for bids in early 2021. Construction would be expected to start a couple of months later. Construction was initially slated to start in 2019 with a $15 million price tag.

“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 July. “In this case, the costs have gone up more than typical cost increases.”

As of Monday, Merrill said there was no updated cost or timeline for the project.

In 2016, a 25-ton limit was posted on the bridge after the condition of the deck and superstructure was downgraded from fair to poor.

The transportation department inspected the bridge in early September and found the bridge deck is in serious condition with advanced corrosion damage to the deck support components of the truss bridge, according to Merrill.

Merrill said the corrosion has advanced past the floor beam repairs. New damage was found on the main support components of the truss.

The report sites additional areas of damaged concrete, peeling paint, corrosion, rust, cracks and debris accumulation within the bridge structure.

“At this point, we are not modifying the existing weight restriction,” Merrill said. “We will continue to inspect this bridge annually to monitor the accelerated rate of deterioration. If the section loss continues to advance, we will consider putting further weight restrictions in place.”

The bridge remains safe for vehicles that adhere to the posted weight limit, according to Merrill. The MDOT will increase the frequency of inspections if needed and will close a bridge before it becomes unsafe to cross, he said.

The Maine Department of Transportation found additional corrosion and damage during a September inspection of the Frank J. Wood Bridge. Courtesy of Maine Department of Transportation

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