In 2016, the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber passed the resolution below recommending the replacement of the Frank J. Wood Bridge that had connected Topsham and Brunswick, at that point, for 84 years. In the last five years, our resolve for this position has only deepened and the time to act is now.

The reasons we sought a replacement in 2016 are still the same reasons we support this position in 2021. All that has changed is there has been a considerable delay of the process brought on by legal challenges of those who would prefer to repair the bridge instead of replacing it. Now, the bridge that was in dire need of repair, is five years older, and five more years less stable.

The Frank J. Wood Bridge has lasted 89 years, but it’s barely hanging on. The impetus for this discussion is because DOT identified the bridge as not meeting critical safety standards back in 2016. Pieces of the bridge are falling into the river, ruining the animal habitats below. The rusting exterior of the bridge does little to compliment the two thriving communities that it connects, and more importantly than appearance, is the rust permeating the core parts of the structure, such as the bolts and joints.

How long until something truly terrible occurs due to the delay? A cyclist pops a tire on bridge debris and falls, or a bridge section falls out. What happens to traffic if the bridge is closed unexpectedly? What does that do to businesses on Maine Street and in Bowdoin Mill if the bridge is unexpectedly out? How many travelers will avoid our towns all together and drive instead to communities where they can get around easier?

If we replace the bridge, we’ll have time to strategize on how to divert the traffic. We can have signage and printed maps created months in advance, and we can do special marketing campaigns to bring people to the Bowdoin Mill Complex and Maine Street in Brunswick via alternate routes, so these businesses can make it through the one-time construction phase.

Of course, if the bridge becomes abruptly unusable, DOT doesn’t have a crew waiting on standby to take this job on. It will take months, and businesses could lose full seasons of patronage — and it could happen any day.

Why the delay? Because a small, organized group genuinely loves the bridge and they don’t want to see it go. They consider it to be a key piece of our heritage and a historic landmark. They have true feelings of community spirit, and not having that bridge will affect how closely they feel tied to the region. It’s not my place to judge how they feel. It’s my place to say, I understand that they feel that way, but the majority of us do not. For many of us, it’s an well-lived bridge that needs replacement; it’s a safety issue.

We have heard the concerns. The Department of Transportation had dozens of listening sessions and planning meetings. The two municipalities convened a design committee to evaluate design features for a new bridge and they voted for the plans they felt best represented the community vision. There were legal battles, additional hearings, petitions, sign campaigns, and social media campaigning.

Yet at the end of it all, most people would rather go with the bridge replacement plan that will last another 90-100 years and only close the bridge for three-four weeks for one year, than go with the repair plan which would close the bridge three-four weeks for four consecutive years, and only last 25-30 years. The difference in cost is $2M in federal funds, to get 70 more years of use and one closure instead of four.

Big community projects should always be debated. But this has been weighed, measured, vetted, decided, petitioned, re-decided, re-petitioned, re-re-decided and here we are five years later with no date to even start the new bridge. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Each day that passes is another roll of the dice for which part of the bridge will fall into the river next.

We urge, in the strongest way possible, for the Department of Transportation to finalize this project, earmark the funding for it and select a start date, so our communities can have a clear idea of what we need to prepare for the new bridge.

Here is the original resolution passed in May 2016, with only the final section about forming a design committee omitted as that has been completed:

Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber of Commerce
RESOLUTION REGARDING THE TOPSHAM-BRUNSWICK BRIDGE
Adopted: May 26, 2016

WHEREAS: The Directors of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber of Commerce acknowledge and respect the long service of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, but also express the following very strong concerns regarding continued reliance on this 84-year-old bridge:

  • Accelerating deterioration in the condition of the existing bridge
  • Increasing maintenance and inspection costs associated with a rehabilitated bridge
  • Very substantial adverse impacts to local businesses arising from the repeated, lengthy closures required for rehabilitation of the existing bridge
  • Much lower life-cycle costs of a new bridge
  • Significantly improved and safer transportation facilities provided by a new bridge for all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists
  • The fact that the bridge would still need to be replaced – at even higher cost – at the end of the limited additional useful life resulting from a rehabilitation
  • The recommendation of the Maine Department of Transportation that the existing bridge be replaced, based upon more than a year of careful consideration of all alternatives, including rehabilitation

BE IT RESOLVED, THEREFORE: That the Directors of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber of Commerce fully support the replacement of the Frank J. Wood Bridge with a new bridge that includes improved access and safety for all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists, and minimizes the current and future financial impacts on our communities.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber. 

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