TOPSHAM, Maine — The Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) has banned all commercial vehicles from using the 90-year-old Highway 201 Frank J. Wood Bridge in Topsham after severe deterioration over the past several years.
According to a MaineDOT news release, any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 26,000 pounds is prohibited from using the bridge.
Overweight vehicles should use the Route 1 Bypass as a detour route.
MaineDOT says that about 30 trucks still try to use the bridge each day.
“Too many vehicles were not complying with the limit,” said MaineDOT Chief Engineer Joyce Taylor. “Restricting the bridge to all commercial traffic will make enforcement efforts easier. We need to take these steps to extend the life of the current structure until we can replace it.”
To help enforce the bridge’s weight restrictions, MaineDOT has installed cameras and license-plate readers on the bridge.
“Our team of engineers has also been working with local and state police,” the news release stated. “Prior to this new posting, law enforcement efforts had required on-site weighing of vehicles to determine whether they were overweight. Now, they won’t need to do that.”
The Frank J. Wood Bridge, which carries Highway 201 between Brunswick and Topsham, was originally constructed in 1931.
“It is a fracture critical bridge, rated in poor condition, and getting worse,” the news release stated. “During the last inspection, conducted in mid-September, bridge engineers found severe section loss on the structure.”
The original estimated construction cost to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge was $13 million. The total service life cost of the bridge over 100 years was only $17.3 million. The original estimated construction cost of rehabilitating the bridge was $15 million with a total service life cost over 75 years of $35.2 million. In short, replacing the bridge was determined to be more cost effective, both initially and over the long-term.
MaineDOT, the organization tasked with this bridge project and overseeing almost 3,000 bridges and spans statewide, along with the FHWA, chose the replacement alternative following a lengthy and full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.
Additionally, MaineDOT worked with a municipally-appointed design advisory committee to design a new bridge that meets all needs, including those of bicyclists and pedestrians, and which enhances this unique urban setting between two communities and celebrates its remarkable views of the Androscoggin River, the Pejepscot Falls and historic redeveloped mills.
Since estimated construction costs were first calculated, the cost of bridge work has increased dramatically. Over the past 14 months, the price of steel has more than doubled, and raw material costs are going up at the same rate across the board. In addition, there is a labor shortage in the construction industry, putting upward pressure on prices.
“We understand and respect the passion of the relatively small group that wants to keep the existing 90-year old bridge, but the reality is this bridge is in poor condition and getting worse,” Taylor said. “The extended debate and legal challenges have cost all Maine people many years and many millions of dollars. Given the condition of the existing bridge, the reliability and cost-effectiveness of the new bridge, the planned enhancement of pedestrian and bicycle amenities, and the support of local officials, the time has come to move forward as soon as possible.”
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