The Maine Department of Transportation is days away from collecting bids for its long-sought replacement for the Frank J. Wood Bridge, but a collection of local and national activists is still fighting to preserve the span that links Brunswick and Topsham.

On Feb. 24, Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, the Historic Bridge Foundation and Waterfront Maine again filed suit in federal court to halt progress on a new bridge. The suit, which names the heads of the U.S. and Maine Departments of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration as defendants, claims tearing down the 90-year-old bridge would violate the Department of Transportation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act’s protections on historic sites.

“MDOT’s well-oiled propaganda machine has done a great job of misleading the public about this project from the outset,” Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge wrote in a press release. “Fortunately, federal courts are not so easily swayed by marketing and media manipulation. The law is still the law.”

At the heart of the case is whether repairing the 805-foot-long steel truss bridge is a “prudent and feasible” alternative to replacing it.

The Maine Department of Transportation has long maintained that repairing the bridge will cost substantially more than building a new structure, a claim plaintiffs dispute. Despite rejecting many of the plaintiffs’ arguments, a federal court last March agreed that the Federal Highway Administration had used an incorrect cost-projection method in 2019 and sent the project back for reevaluation on narrow grounds.

In January, after nearly four years of litigation stalled the process of replacing the deteriorating bridge, the FHA appeared to end the saga by once again concluding that rehabilitation would be cost-prohibitive. The administration’s evaluation, which reworked its 2019 estimates using a more appropriate “life-cycle cost analysis,” found that — as of 2019 — rehabilitating the bridge would have cost 53% more than building a new structure over the next 75 or 100 years.


In their new suit, plaintiffs claim that evaluation is worthless because it is based on obsolete construction costs. Merely plugging 2019 construction cost estimates into a new formula is inappropriate, they say, because construction costs have skyrocketed in the intervening years. By MDOT’s own admission, replacing the bridge will now cost an estimated $42 million, far more than the $13.7 million projection the FHA listed in the update to its 2019 evaluation.

Before the government can move forward with the project, the bridge’s defenders argue, it must repeat the lengthy process of comparing the costs of rehabilitation and replacement.

An MDOT spokesperson said the lawsuit will not stop the department from opening the project for bids on March 8.

“The delay from the previous lawsuit has cost considerable money and time,” the department wrote in a statement. “There has been marked increases in construction costs during the delay — increases that impact both new construction and rehabilitation. It is time to move forward and deliver a great new bridge.”

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