A long-running legal battle over the aging bridge connecting Brunswick and Topsham looked close to ending on Wednesday after a court ruling led the Maine Department of Transportation to say it plans to seek bids to replace the structure by spring.
Plans to replace the 90-year-old Frank J. Wood Bridge over the Androscoggin River date back to 2017 after the transportation department found the truss bridge was structurally unsound and determined a replacement would be less expensive than repairs.
But those plans faced stiff opposition from preservation groups that sued in 2019, arguing the state should work to repair the bridge rather than build a new one and questioned the state’s cost estimates. During that time, the bridge’s condition has continued to deteriorate to the point where school buses and fire trucks are no longer allowed on it.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston sided with the agency Tuesday, finding no merit to the preservation groups’ complaints about the state’s cost estimates on a range of line items. The group behind the lawsuit, however, did not see the ruling as a defeat, noting judges were also critical of one method the Maine Department of Transportation had used to account for future costs, characterizing it as “counterintuitive.”
The court instructed the agency to work with the Federal Highway Administration to further justify its cost analysis or affirm that the higher cost of repairs found using a different methodology was significant. The department said Wednesday that it anticipated the final analysis would find the same result, allowing it to move forward with construction, though preservation advocates questioned that.
State officials hope to move forward with advertising bids for the project in the spring, the department said in a statement. The next scheduled bridge inspection is in March.