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After Long Delay, Work Begins to Replace Bridge Over Maine's Androscoggin River

Wed August 16, 2023 - Northeast Edition #18

The new span in Maine’s coastal region is designed to be a newer, safer structure than the current bridge. (MaineDOT rendering)
The new span in Maine’s coastal region is designed to be a newer, safer structure than the current bridge. (MaineDOT rendering)

The Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) has begun on-site construction on the project to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the agency announced July 26. The bridge carries U.S. Highway 201 over the Androscoggin River between the towns of Brunswick and Topsham, northeast of Portland.

The new span in Maine's coastal region is designed to be a newer, safer structure than the current bridge, which is more than 90 years old, and rated in poor condition, MaineDOT noted.

Since November 2021, the state transportation department has prohibited all commercial traffic from using the current bridge due to its being "fracture critical."

While bridges are normally inspected every two years, the Frank J. Wood bridge is inspected every six months by MaineDOT structural engineers to allow for more frequent analysis of its condition and the potential need for further traffic or weight restrictions.

The replacement bridge will improve safety and reliability for the surrounding communities, according to MaineDOT. It will be located on a curved upstream alignment and feature enhancements requested by a local design advisory committee.

Planned to last for at least 100 years, the new bridge will have sidewalks and wider shoulders on both sides (including pedestrian viewing bump-outs), parks on each end, special railings, lighting and other design details as well as unobstructed views of the natural and architectural features of the surrounding Pejepscot Falls site on the Androscoggin River.

Almost 10 Years Passed From Planning to Construction

The state started considering options for the bridge in 2014 and last January announced that it was ready to accept bids for the construction work after getting the green light from federal officials.

Reed & Reed Inc. of Woolwich, Maine, is the contractor on the replacement bridge project, which is budgeted at just under $50 million.

Subject to inspections and restrictions of the existing Frank J. Wood Bridge, the new crossing project is not expected to have any significant impacts on motorists until 2025. If the work proceeds as planned, MaineDOT noted, all work associated with the construction contract is scheduled to be finished in late 2026, but the new bridge is expected to be open to traffic earlier than that.

The work to replace the bridge comes after years of delays and legal wrangling by some who wanted to preserve the historic structure.

The Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge sued state officials in an attempt to stop the project, saying that the old span should be rehabilitated — rather than replaced — and that MaineDOT had failed to accurately estimate the replacement costs.

"I think it's a good idea," Bowdoin resident Tim LaCount told WGME-TV in Portland. "This bridge right here is too dangerous. I mean, if you look underneath, the concrete is all chipped and ready to go. And it looks like the design on the new bridge [is] a good modern design."

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