A new group supporting the replacement of the Frank J. Wood bridge has recently emerged amidst the multi-yearlong, local controversy surrounding the topic.

The group, Bridge to the Future, came together in July. The organization supports the Maine Department of Transportation’s efforts to replace the 89-year-old truss bridge that connects Topsham and Brunswick and carries Route 201 and Route 24 traffic over the Androscoggin River.

Bridge to the Future opposes the goal of Friends of Frank J. Wood, another local organization which aims to preserve the historical bridge and has been involved in a multi-yearlong legal battle with MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

While the initial lawsuit was lost, Friends of Frank J. Wood, as well as other historical organizations and local entities that align with the group, are set to present oral arguments for an appeal on Sept. 13 in First District Federal Court in Boston.

According to the Bridge to the Future Spokesperson Larissa Darcy, the new group’s central message is safety.

“The decision to build a bridge was made by the experts over six years ago now,” Darcy said, noting that reports have classified the bridge under the status of fracture critical. “I actually looked up the definition, and fracture critical is defined as ‘a failure that would result in a collapse of a portion or all of the bridge deck.’ When I read that, I mean, it just kind of escalated my concerns and the need to build this now.”

Darcy also added that the current bridge was not designed to carry the loads that it currently takes on.

The new group, which Darcy said is made up of residents as well as some business owners, also looks to inform the public of the benefits of constructing a new bridge.

According to Darcy, benefits from the new bridge include two 11-foot-wide travel lanes, two five-foot wide bicycle lanes, two expanded sidewalks over six-feet wide and overlooks which allow people to look out over the river.

“We just felt it was important to let the public know, not just about the new bridge, but all the benefits that come with the new bridge,” Darcy said. “It creates a very safe place for people to be.”

According to Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge Spokesperson John Graham, his group is looking to have the existing bridge rehabilitated to meet safety and access needs, but not replaced due to the historical status of the structure. Graham said this option has been determined to be possible by MDOT.

According to MDOT Public Information Officer Paul Merrill, the price estimate for the new bridge still sits around $21.8 million and building a new bridge would be more cost-effective than upgrading the current structure.

Merrill said he can’t put a dollar amount to how much the state has spent on the lawsuit so far, in part because the state has its own attorneys on staff to handle the case. The Maine Department of Transportation anticipates putting the project out to bid in November, Merrill added.

Designs for the new bridge include elements to memorialize previous bridges and other historical aspects involving the area, Darcy said.

Bridge to the Future distributes both lawn signs and bumpers stickers and mostly communicates through social media. Darcy said the organization is planning to speak with local community groups going forward about the new bridge.

In July, signs belonging to Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge that read “#SaveTheFJWB” and cost around $215 each were vandalized at The Fort Andross Mill Complex on Maine Street in Brunswick.

“It is unfortunate when anybody’s property gets vandalized no matter what organization,” Darcy said. “We hope law enforcement finds who did it.”

Replacement signs have since been installed, and according to Brunswick’s Chief of Police Scott Stewart, no arrests have been made regarding the incident.

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