Trussed above the Androscoggin River running between Brunswick and Topsham, a fight over history has finally been settled. The replacement Frank J. Wood Bridge (FJWB) is officially under construction yards from the original. Construction broke ground in July.
The FJWB will stand at least a few more years, with construction on the new bridge not expected to be done until 2025 and the demolition of the original planned for October 2025. Additionally, traffic changes won’t occur until early 2025, when they are expected to force a reroute along Route 196, east of the current bridge.
“The existing bridge is more than 90 years old. It is fracture critical and rated in poor condition. Since November 2021, [the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT)] has prohibited all commercial traffic from using the current bridge. While bridges are normally inspected every two years, the Frank J. Wood Bridge is inspected every six months to allow for more frequent analysis of its condition and the potential need for further traffic or weight restrictions,” MaineDOT said in a statement on July 26.
Breaking ground on this project has involved an over-eight-year legal battle between local activists fighting to save the bridge and MaineDOT. Despite the official announcement of the project, anti-construction activist group Friends of FJWB have not backed down.
In 2016, when the initial concerns about the bridge’s “fracture level critical” status came to light and the possibility of a new bridge was proposed, Friends of FJWB formed a concerted effort to fight the change. Considering the FJWB’s eligibility for listing in the National Registry of Historic Places, the land is protected under federal law in the circumstance that there is a “feasible and prudent” alternative to the proposed reconstruction project.
Friends of FJWB argued that replacing the bridge altogether was significantly more expensive than merely refurbishing it, citing the federal law as grounds to protect the historic bridge. The group began with grassroots protest and eventually took their case to court. However, the Federal Highway Association (FHA) found that replacing the bridge would be less expensive than refurbishing it, ultimately ending the case.
Shortly after approval from the FHA, MaineDOT announced construction plans for the bridge estimated at over $42 million, and the Friends of FJWB grew more enraged.
“In the figures presented to FHWA by [MaineDOT] to make the case for new construction, they claimed the new bridge would cost $13 million when their own recent three year plan shows the cost to be at over $42 million. This difference cannot solely be attributed to inflation,” Friends of FJWB stated in a release from February 24.
In the same statement, the Friends of FJWB vowed to continue its legal fight against MaineDOT. Despite filing a suit in April challenging the department’s new estimate, the group did not succeed in its effort to stop construction or contract bidding.
MaineDOT signed a contract with local construction company Reed & Reed in March for over $43 million and construction began in late July. Though replacing the bridge is on the horizon, the green and brown trussed wonder will stand in all its glory for at least another few years.