Group Sues to Preserve Historic ME Bridge


Working to preserve a historic bridge located in Maine, preservation groups recently filed a lawsuit against Elaine Chao, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Bruce Van Note, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, among others, citing that the bridge in question could be renovated rather than replaced.

The Frank J. Wood Bridge, also known as the Green Bridge, was opened in 1932. According to Maine Preservation, the 805-foot-long steel-truss bridge supports 19,000 vehicles daily.

Green Bridge History

Historic Bridges reports that the structure is among the state’s more significant bridges due to it being one of the larger surviving metal truss bridges. Maine Preservation also notes that the bridge was opened as part of the Workers Protection Administration’s initiative regarding America’s infrastructure.

In May 2016, MDOT announced its intention to demolish the bridge, which spans the Androscoggin River, a waterway that divides Topsham and Brunswick. The structure would be replaced with a concrete bridge upstream. The catch is that the decision was made prior to beginning historic and environmental reviews that would help assess if the historic bridge could be saved.

Maine has lost 47 historic Warren Through-Truss bridges since 1999, 23 of which were qualified for or on the National Register of Historic Places. The Green Bridge was also dubbed eligible to be on the Register. Whatever decision is made moving forward, the fact remains that the bridge deck needs critical maintenance that will cost up to $800,000. Other structural issues, including the deterioration of truss bars and floor beams, will also need to be addressed within the next five years. Repair and replace options currently fluctuate between $13-17 million. The bridge is also not functionally obsolete.

Recent Lawsuit

In the recent lawsuit, three preservation groups—the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States and the Historic Bridge Foundation—argue for renovating the bridge, and that replacing the structure outright would violate the National Environmental Protection Act because there have been no state assessments regarding the passage of fish at the nearby dam.

For now, those who filed the lawsuit request that the court halt construction of a new bridge until NEPA has been complied with. Last year, the state department reported that building a new structure would be more cost-effective at about $13 million up front and another $17.3 million for maintenance over the new bridge’s 100-year lifespan. On the other hand, renovations on the existing bridge are estimated to cost up to $17 million, with service-life costs totaling more than $35 million.

MDOT spokesperson Paul Merrill noted that engineers deny the allegations made in the lawsuit.

“The decision was reached for this project after a fact-based and thoughtful, two-and-a-half-year-long engineering and environmental assessment overseen by the Federal Highway Administration,” Merrill said. “MDOT’s job is to ensure public safety and be responsible with public funding; our conclusion on this project achieves both.”

If the project moves forward, work is slated to bid in August of next year, with construction beginning in winter 2021 and completion likely to wrap up in 2023.                                                                                   


Tagged categories: Bridges; Environmental Protection; Historic Preservation; Infrastructure; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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