Go Fund Me campaign to raise $15,000 to hire an independent contractor to look at options to restore the 1932 historic truss bridge
BRUNSWICK & TOPSHAM, MAINE- Conflicts between the Maine Department of Transportation on one end and locals from both Brunswick and Topsham as well as preservation officials have reached new heights for recent public meetings regarding the future of the three-span polygonal Warren through truss bridge have produced intensive strife, and locals have turned to other alternatives to ensure the 1932 product of Boston Bridge Works remains in place for years to come.
Since 30 March, the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Memorial Bridge has undertaken a campaign to raise funds for an independent contractor to conduct a structural survey and present an objective alternative to replacing the historic bridge- favoring the preservation and restoration of the structure. The contractor has had experience in restoring bridges of this caliber in the New England states and East Coast, and the cost for such an engineering study is estimated to be $15,000. To donate to the project, please click onto the link here: https://www.gofundme.com/save-the-frank-j-wood-bridge
Every single dollar will help a great deal for the project. Already at the time of this posting, over half of the funds have been raised. Your help will ensure the other half will be raised, and the counterarguments to MaineDOT’s claim of the bridge being at the end of its useful life be presented as objectively and professionally as possible.
During the last meeting, which spawned this fund-raising effort, officials from MaineDOT presented proposals for replacing the historic bridge using studies conducted by a bridge engineering firm that had no experience in restoring historic bridges. All the proposals presented were rejected flatly by residents and officials from the National Advisory on the Council for Historic Preservation and Maine Preservation, both of whom had requested the DOT to look at the cost for restoring the historic bridge, but was met with refusal. According to members of the Friends committee as well as locals, the meeting between both sides produced biased results and little room to comment on the alternatives to replacing the bridge, angering locals and proponents of restoring the truss bridge to a point where the committee has decided to forego the findings of the DOT and embark on this daring measure. Public sentiment for the bridge is very strong for reasons that restoring the bridge is cost-efficient and presents the two communities and their historic mills and wetlands with a sense of historic pride and heritage. A youtube video of the bridge and the two communities is an excellent example of the willingness to fight to keep the bridge:
Furthermore, at 30 feet wide, the bridge can hold two lanes of vehicular traffic plus an additional lane for bikes and pedestrians, even though a pedestrian portion practically exists on the truss bridge.
The battle for the objective truth is getting intense and it will set the precedent for any future preservation plans for other historic bridges in the region, nationwide and beyond. As mentioned in an interview with the Chronicles last year (click here for details) , the communities will even take the legal path if MaineDOT continues to refuse to listen to the needs of the residents affected by the bridge controversy and shove its new bridge down their throats against their will. Last month’s meeting has taken this matter one step closer to the danger zone. Whether this independent study on the future of the historic bridge, which especially includes alternatives to replacing the bridge that still has years of life left, will defuse the conflict depends solely on the willingness of both sides to come away with a proposal that will satisfy everyone.
The Chronicles will continue to monitor the latest developments on the bridge. In the meantime, if you have a dime to help, take a couple minutes of your time and do the right thing. Donate to save the bridge.
A couple weeks ago, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) declared the historic Frank J. Wood Bridge, a three-span polygonal Warren through truss bridge with riveted connections and one-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings to be a liability, deciding for the modernity with replacing the structure with a concrete one, to be built alongside the 1932 structure, with the old structure to be removed shortly afterwards. This was confirmed through multiple news outlets as well as the agency’s website.
In the eyes of locals, the news story is considered fake news and have an alternative news story to share, one that sheds light on MDOT’s neglect of historic structures. As the environmental surveys are going to be carried out, much of which in connection with Section 106- 4f of the Historic Preservation Laws of 1966, locals, like John Graham, a realtor in Topsham and one of the members of the committee to save and restore the bridge, are stepping up to the plate and planning to turn the heat on MDOT, to force the agency to rescind the decision and look at constructive ways to keep the bridge in service, using more than enough notable examples to go around.
In an interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, Mr. Graham provides us with a glimpse of the historic significance of the Frank Wood Bridge, why MDOT has not taken historic bridge preservation seriously- following the path of neighboring New Hampshire- and measures that are planned to fight for the preservation of their prized historic landmark.
First and foremost, how significant is the Frank J Wood Bridge in terms of its history and ties with the communities of Brunswick and Topsham?
The bridge was built in 1932. It crosses what was three natural falls, one being so high it stopped the sturgeon from going any high to spawn and was one of the best fishing areas for the Native Americans and there is recorded history as early as 1620 of settlers using it as a fishing spot. The bridge is flanked on each side by mill building which still stand and were both in operation one into the sixties and the other into the eighties. The mills have both been redeveloped but retain their historical nature and the three structures- the two mills and the bridge create a recognized Industrial district. If the bridge is removed the district will no longer exist. The bridge has been the meeting place of both towns and held Memorial day parade celebrations every year. President Johnson crossed it in his motorcade once. Pictures of the bridge appear on numerous websites, on last year’s phonebook cover, it is the one instantly recognizable icon of both communities (Topsham and Brunswick).
The bridge was named after Frank J. Wood. Who was he and how important was he to the communities/ area?
Frank J. Wood was a local farmer and paper maker- worked in the Topsham Mill. He is credited with suggesting the current location of the bridge and died childless shortly after the bridge was completed.
A write-up on the bridge and its history can be viewed by clicking here.
How long has MaineDOT been trying to replace this bridge? What are their arguments for replacing it?
MDOT has been systematically not maintaining older thru truss bridges for decades. The last time the bridge was painted was 1980. They proposed removing in 2004 (?) and then again in 2015. They have very weak arguments- mainly cost.
Note: There are some examples of historic bridges in Maine that have been taken down, solely for that reason. Click on the following bridges below:
Your arguments against replacing the bridge- why should the bridge be preserved?
Why not? The bridge is exceptionally wide for its time (30 feet) and tall (14.8 feet). It was built to have two lanes of traffic and a coal car trolly line down the center. The bridge if properly maintained could be around for many more generations. The State is rapidly losing what was once a fairly common bridge type and the location and setting of this one is exceptional. It is also not functionally obsolete like so many are. MDOT had a plan in the mid eighties to put three lanes of traffic across it. It can easily handle two ten foot travel lanes and two five foot bike lanes. Just up stream is a restored suspension walking bridge. Maine has few economic things driving it currently and our historical downtowns and historical structures create a unique sense of place. This drives our tourism industry and attracts both business and residence to the area. The new “low cost” alternative does not fit the location.
Maine DOT had presented four proposals for the bridge, two of which had to do with rehabilitation. Can you describe how the bridges would be rehabilitated? Which of the two plans do most of the people favor?
The rehabilitated bridges would both have completely new decks installed and minor repair to one bottom cord and a complete paint job. The other alternative adds a second side walk. It is unclear if a second sidewalk is favored or not. MDOT has really created dialogue of only new or old and rusty. I personally do not see the need for a second side walk and look at the New Hope- Lambertville Bridge between PA and NJ as a great example of a bridge between two historical downtowns that has only one side walk and handles as many as 14,000 pedestrians in a single weekend. That bridge is actually longer and also has a newer bypass bridge, although the bypass here is closer.
After the DOT’s decision to replace the bridge, you presented a counter-statement, claiming that the agency had not done enough to conduct feasible studies on the bridge, specifically looking at the options carefully and selecting the rehabilitation option. Can you explain further what they didn’t do that they should have done, let alone what they did which would be considered illegal in your terms?
They never have seriously considered rehabilitation and have hired a consulting firm that does not have experience in rehabilitation. The quotes that they have made public are wildly high according to the experts we have ran the numbers by. They have used this method to sway public opinion. MDOT came out with a preferred alternative- the new upstream bridge before the 106 process even begin. This is not how the process is meant to take place. They need to hire a qualified firm to give realistic rehab and long term maintenance costs for the bridge. The main thing they initially failed to do was to say they were going to conduct a full Environment assessment EA. They have since (this week) notified us that they now plan to do so. If it is necessary to sue it will be after the EA is complete and the 4f process is done. We are gearing up for the 4f process because this is the law that actually has some teeth and where we can win. MDOT has publicly stated that it is feasible to rehab the bridge. We had several small victories during the 106 process where we were able to get them to agree the rehab with one side walk fit the purpose and need and that the removal of the bridge would be both a adverse affect to the bridge itself and also to the industrial district mentioned above.
In light of the decision by the DOT, what steps are you considering taking at this point?
We were all fully expecting this decision as they had made it a over a year ago and we forced them to follow the law and actually do a real 106 process. We are gearing up for the 4f and a possible legal battle there. We are in the process of securing an engineering firm to do an independent analysis of the bridge rehabilitation costs. This has proven very difficult because no firm in the East will go up against MDOT for they are a big client. Many have spoken to us off record but none will actually put a report together. We have found several from across the country that are willing. The battle now is all in the term “prudent”. We have forced MDOT to only rely on life cycle costs to make this argument. Cost we believe are overstated for this sole purpose.
Who else has been helping you with supporting the bridge in terms of consultancy, legal action, fundraising, meetings, etc.?
There is a core group of about 10 of us with two very generous financial backers. We have an excellent local attorney and engineers and professors from around the country that we have been meeting with.
Should the DOT be forced to rescind their decision and favor restoring the bridge, are there going to be any fundraising options, etc. for the bridge?
When MDOT is forced to maintain the historical structures they are charged with maintaining; the State and Federal government will pay for it. The fundraising option in this case is called taxes. That said there is talk of creating a yearly festival centered around the bridge which we would raise money for.
With regard to restoring the bridge, what would the newly restored bridge look like in comparison to the proposed replacement? Would there a park area, etc.?
The restored bridge would look identical to the bridge we have but painted with a new coat of green paint. The only difference would be the deck would no longer have metal grates down each side and would have slightly narrower travel lanes and actual bike lanes painted on. The new bridge is a flat highway overpass bridge. You can see pictures of both on the Facebook page.
What is the general mood at the moment in response to the DOT’s wanting to replace the bridge?
The groups mood is one of continued optimism. We have been expecting this day. It is just another step closer till we can save the bridge. The community is torn between in favor and not in favor although the not in favor have been fed really misleading information from MDOT.
While some communities and regions have stepped aside to let the DOTs and other local agencies tear down their structures, many of which had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are enough pocket of examples of people, like the communities of Brunswick and Topsham are working to impede the progress of MDOT, using experts from across the country to prove that just because one bridge part is bad, does not mean the whole bridge needs to come down. Instead they want to set an example for other DOTs in the US, proving that the age of wasting materials and destroying heritages is not in the best interest, no matter how the arguments are packaged and presented. It is hoped that this successful trend will force others to think about their own infrastructure and use rational thinking instead of the mentality which means, haste makes waste.
The Chroicles will keep you informed on the latest with the Frank Wood Bridge. You can also follow the Friends of the Frank Wood Bridge by clicking onto its facebook page here.
Special Thanks to John Graham for his help in the interview and best of luck in efforts to stop the replacement process, slated to begin next year.