Following a September safety inspection, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced last week that the single-vehicle weight limit for the Frank J. Wood Bridge traversing the Androscoggin between Brunswick and Topsham had to be lowered from 25 tons to 10. Because of the adjustment, fire engines, school buses and some commercial trucks are now unable to use the roadway. The decision has reignited calls for the bridge’s replacement, which will be finalized pending an ongoing case in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Drivers were notified of the change with a large sign at the intersection of Maine Street and Mason Street last week. Advocates for replacing the bridge, led by local organization Bridge to the Future, have pointed out that rerouting school bus routes presents an inconvenience, and rerouting fire trucks presents a potentially severe danger to the community, further bolstering the argument for replacement. Proponents of rehabilitating the existing bridge, led by nonprofit Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, posted on their Facebook page that the load reduction was not unforeseen.
“[This announcement is not] 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,” the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge wrote. “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.”
The change will affect fire truck routes, but Brunswick Fire Chief Kenneth Brillant said that construction projects have necessitated similar reroutes in the recent past without a significant detrimental effect.
“If we have to go via another route to help out Topsham, it might take us another minute or so, but it’s not like it’ll take us 20 minutes more,” Brillant said.
The final decision on the question of rehabilitation or replacement rests on the pending opinion of the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which heard the case last month. MDOT, anticipating a win, has stated that they plan to accept bids to begin construction as soon as next month.
“I’ve been here my entire life. I’ve seen that bridge since I was a little kid, and unfortunately I think we’re at a point where the bridge needs to be replaced,” Brillant said. “This [lowering of weight limits] is just further proof of that.”