Panel: Make Brunswick-Topsham bridge bike, pedestrian friendly

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BRUNSWICK — An advisory panel tasked with providing design suggestions for a crossing to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge is advocating for a mix of safety and aesthetic features, including two spacious sidewalks and bike lanes.

The panel’s report culminates a year’s worth of meetings with stakeholders from Brunswick and Topsham.

The Design Advisory Committee was formed last summer, shortly after the Department of Transportation made public its intention to replace the 85-year-old truss bridge, which carries Route 201. Federal officials have rated the condition of the deteriorating bridge as poor.

Since then, the DOT and the Federal Highway Administration initiated a series of historical and environmental reviews that consider the impact of several replacement options.

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In June, the agencies said their “preferred alternative” is to replace the bridge with a steel-girder option along an upstream alignment.

Officials are also considering rehabilitating the bridge, which a cohort of local residents have adamantly urged. However, while the June recommendation did not constitute a final design decision, all future reviews will focus on the preferred replacement, a state spokesman said at the same time.

The committee’s Aug. 23 report, which only focused on replacing the bridge, primarily emphasizes safety features for bikers and pedestrians.

Their recommendations also promote cosmetic and design choices that honor the crossing’s natural and historical setting, which straddles the Androscoggin River’s passage between two historic mills.

The panel recommends a 6-foot, 4-inch-wide sidewalk and a 5-foot-wide bicycle lane on each side of the bridge.

“The addition of the second downstream sidewalk by MaineDOT at state expense is an extremely important and noteworthy benefit to the safety, use and feel of the bridge,” the report states. 

The current structure only has a single, upstream sidewalk, and the committee wants to eliminate the need for pedestrians to cross Route 201 after reaching the end of the bridge.

The committee is also advocating for two sidewalk overlooks — crescent-shaped “bump-outs” in the black sidewalk railings — that encourage pedestrians to enjoy scenic views of the river and Pejepscot Falls. 

A new pocket park is proposed at the downstream side of the bridge’s abutment in Topsham. An underutilized park already exists next to the existing bridge in Brunswick, and ideally, the report states, the new alignment will incorporate trails that make access to 250th Anniversary Park easier.

The report floats the possibility of adding an outdoor amphitheater on a raised buff of the park, which would look over the river and the old Pejepscot Paper Mill. If the idea appeals to the state engineers funding the project, the report acknowledges that further discussion of feasibility, desirability and parking is necessary.

“The new bridge and its potential amenities — the open vistas, two wide sidewalks, comfortable bicycle lanes, the bump-outs, the scenic overlooks, the parks, and connecting trails — will create attractive public spaces for both towns, which will serve the needs and interests for community residents, businesses, and visitors,” the report states.

John Shattuck, director of Economic Development in Topsham, and Linda Smith, his counterpart in Brunswick, are listed as the primary points of contact on the DAC committee, which was composed of 17 people.

Shattuck and Smith both support replacing the bridge over rehabilitating it, having argued that rehabilitation is cost-prohibitive, based on early engineering estimates produced by T. Y. Lin International.

A final design is expected in to be announced by the end of the summer or early fall, a DOT spokesman said in June.

A local advisory committee is recommending the state replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge, which carries Route 201 from Brunswick to Topsham, with a crossing that looks like this. The state announced in June its preference to replace the 85-year-old steel truss bridge with a steel girder bridge, and a local committee is advocating for a design that includes wide sidewalks and painted bike lanes on both sides of the road.
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