The Frank J. Wood Bridge
The state is moving ahead with plans to demolish the Frank J. Wood Bridge connecting Topsham and Brunswick. Credit: CBS 13

The state will move ahead with demolishing a rapidly deteriorating bridge spanning the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham.

That comes after the Federal Highway Administration confirmed an earlier assessment that the cost of rehabilitating the Frank J. Wood Bridge is greater than building a replacement, the Maine Department of Transportation said Tuesday. The reassessment was ordered by a judge in March.

The federal agency’s findings will be posted to the Department of Transportation’s website on Wednesday and the public can comment on them through Aug. 26. After that, the highway agency will review the responses.

“Unless unanticipated new issues arise, MaineDOT plans to advertise for construction bids for the replacement project this summer or early fall, and construction of the new bridge would begin later this year,” the department said Tuesday.

The bridge, built in 1932, has been deteriorating in recent years, with recent inspections finding parts of the Frank J. Wood Bridge cracking, rusting, corroding and experiencing “severe section loss” and “aggressive deterioration.”

Its condition has prompted new weight limits prohibiting commercial vehicles, school buses and fire trucks from crossing the span.

The new, “reliable” bridge will accommodate all traffic and include sidewalks and viewing platforms for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to the Department of Transportation.

“For MaineDOT, this project has always been about ensuring a safe and reliable connection between these two communities,” Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note said. “The Federal Highway Administration has again confirmed what we have long known to be true: that the safety, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of our new bridge plan is the best solution. State and federal agencies with the responsibility for this bridge crossing, as well as local officials, have determined that our new bridge plan is solid. Now is the time to move forward and serve the broader public interest to better connect these two villages.”

The Department of Transportation has argued it’s justified in demolishing the Frank J. Wood Bridge because the costs of renovation exceed those of building a new one. It estimated that rehabilitating and maintaining the bridge over a 75-year span would cost up to $35 million, while building and maintaining a new one would cost up to $17.3 million over a 100-year span.

On Tuesday, the department said that the “unprecedented” and “unexpected” delays have caused a “dramatic” increase in the project’s cost, which now stands at an estimated $33.5 million, including construction and engineering costs.

“In simple terms, the years of delay have at least doubled the cost of the project, reducing bridge improvements that could be made across the state,” the department said.

The project has been beset with delays since the state announced in 2017 that it will replace the aging structure. Those delays have stemmed from a legal fight to keep it standing by the Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge.