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

New weight restrictions for the Frank J. Wood bridge will be put into place next week following an inspection that took place in September, according to a release on Monday from The Maine Department of Transportation.

Effective Monday, Oct. 25, the maximum weight permitted on the bridge that carries traffic on Route 201 between Topsham and Brunswick will be 10 tons or 20,000 pounds.

The current maximum is 25 tons, or 50,000 pounds.

“This new posting is the result of the inspection that happened in mid-September,” the release states. “That inspection found severe section loss on the 90-year-old bridge. Maine DOT bridge engineers met last week to discuss the findings of this latest inspection. These engineers determined that, in the interest of preserving public safety, the weight limit needs to be lowered.”

The new restrictions apply to all vehicles, including fire engines, school buses and box trucks. According to the release, overweight vehicles will be able to use the Route 1 Bypass as a detour.

The bridge was constructed in 1932. It is currently the subject of a multi-yearlong legal battle as a local group, known as The Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge, fights for its preservation.

According to a March 9 report by The Times Record, the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, along with two other groups, sued in September 2019, alleging the Federal Highway Administration and Maine DOT relied on inaccurate information to artificially inflate the projected costs of rehabilitating the existing bridge.

While that initial lawsuit was lost, an appeal process through the First District Federal Court in Boston is currently underway and both parties are awaiting a decision. Maine DOT maintains that building a new bridge would be more cost-effective than upgrading the structure, according to the same report.

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On Sunday, a Facebook post from the Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge social media page anticipated the announcement on Monday to lower the maximum weight: “If so this would not be surprising to us as MDOT has failed to maintain the bridge or carry out any meaningful repairs in years. To be very clear, this weight reduction is squarely on the shoulders of MDOT. This tactic will stir up a whole new round of finger pointing and cries of ‘the bridge is unsafe, it must be replaced!’ Do not be fooled. It was MDOT who failed to follow the law and MDOT who should have rehabbed the bridge in 2016, when their studies stated it was feasible and prudent to do so, who are solely responsible for the bridges condition. Once the bridge is rehabilitated it will again carry all legal load limits.”

The bridge will remain open to two-way traffic and municipal officials in Brunswick and Topsham have been notified.

“The Frank J. Wood Bridge is a fracture critical bridge,” the release states. “The Federal Highway Administration requires inspections of fracture critical bridges at least every two years. Based on the findings of this recent inspection, MaineDOT engineers will begin inspecting the Frank J. Wood Bridge every six months. The structure is scheduled to be replaced. The construction contract is scheduled to go out to bid as soon as practicable.”

Due to the ongoing lawsuit, it is unclear when or if the bridge will be replaced.

Fracture critical bridges are bridges without redundancy so that if a single member within the bridge fails, a portion of or the entire bridge can fail, according to Maine DOT.

The National Bridge Inspection Standards define a fracture critical member as “a steel member in tension, or with a tension element, whose failure would probably cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse.”

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