Frank J. Wood bridge vehicle restrictions tighten
December 3, 2021
On Tuesday, November 23, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) banned all commercial vehicles from crossing the Frank J. Wood Bridge. This follows an October 25 MDOT announcement banning school buses and fire trucks from crossing the bridge and lowering its weight limit to 10 tons from 25. A case was heard in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in October regarding the future of the fracture level critical bridge, which MDOT hopes to replace, but a small group of local activists are petitioning to rehabilitate instead.
“We saw some pretty sizable logging trucks cross that bridge [after enforcing the weight limit reduction], and that’s why we decided to make enforcement easier, just to say no commercial vehicles—the weight limit is still in place,” Paul Merrill, Director of Communications for MDOT, said in a phone interview with the Orient.
A mid-September inspection found that the Depression-era truss bridge showed severe signs of wear, including rust, cracks and corrosion. MDOT also reclassified the bridge as fracture level critical, meaning a failure would result in a partial or total loss of the bridge deck.
MDOT has installed cameras and license plate readers on either end of the bridge to enforce the new restrictions.
“The bridge has been scheduled to be completely replaced. It’s 90 years old. It’s in poor and worsening condition,” Merrill said. “But there’s a preservation group that has sued us to try to stop the replacements.”
MDOT is planning to build a new bridge and use the current bridge until the replacement is finished. The First Circuit Court does not have a set timeline to issue its opinion, which could take anywhere from days to months.
“It is safe to cross now if you are under the weight restriction. I’m not an engineer, but I’m talking to our folks … the fear is that an overweight vehicle will punch a hole through the bridge deck, and then we would have to close [the bridge],” Merrill said.
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11/30 WGME asked “Why did the people in charge of the bridge’s safety (the Maine DOT) let it get this bad?”. Maine DOT tap danced around the answer. Their muddied response is that bridges come to an end of life and “we were hoping to have a (new) bridge in place so we did not get this far down the road.” “Hoping” is like gambling and certainly not a sound maintenance plan. The honest answer would be: We let it go to hell intentionally because we want a shiny new bridge.
Not a surprise that MDOT says their new bridge will cost a lot less than saving the Frank Wood Bridge. Their numbers do not account for the environmental costs; the carbon footprint of all that concrete and steel needed for this new bridge, not to mention the embodied energy that is lost when you remove the old bridge. And they are not accounting for the loss in tourism dollars. Who will come to see their soulless concrete slab? The Frank Wood bridge is a revenue driver for heritage tourism. Woven between two historic mill buildings and in the heart of a historic district. It’s the meat in the sandwich!