Supporters of a new bridge connecting downtown Brunswick and Topsham over the Androscoggin River got a boost from the courts Tuesday.

With the requirement of one additional factual finding, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston sided with The Maine Department of Transportation in their plans to replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge, Maine DOT said in a statement.

A local group, The Friends of Frank J. Wood Bridge had sued to stop the project, in hopes of preserving and rehabbing the 90-year-old span. The group was joined in the suit by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Bridge Foundation.

The court ruling reads, in part: “In a careful opinion, the district court considered and rejected the numerous arguments made by the Friends in seeking to set aside the decision to replace the Bridge. On de novo review [a new review], we now affirm all of the district court’s holdings, save one.”

The court asked the Federal Highway Administration to further justify its method of cost analysis, and Maine DOT said it is confident that the request will not stand in the way of moving forward with replacement.

“Yesterday’s ruling affirms that there is no merit to the factual arguments the plaintiffs have been making regarding specific construction costs and the approach MaineDOT used to develop cost estimates,” reads the Maine DOT’s statement, in part. “The Court’s opinion makes clear what MaineDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) already knew: the cost of rehabilitating the Frank J. Wood Bridge is much greater than the cost of replacing it.

“To finalize this matter, the Court is requiring one additional factual finding, but we are confident that the result will be the same: the villages of Brunswick and Topsham are going to be connected by a new, safer bridge that better serves all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists. MaineDOT will work with our partners at FHWA to satisfy the Court’s instruction in short order. With all the community and municipal support to move forward with the new bridge, we hope there are no additional attempts to delay the project with new legal challenges.”

Maine DOT said it expects to advertise for construction bids on a new bridge in the spring. Maine DOT declined to comment further Wednesday.

Commercial vehicles and vehicles that weigh more than 20,000 pounds are still prohibited from using the Frank J. Wood Bridge, a decision made after several inspections by the agency led to concerns about wearing and corrosion.

In a statement on Wednesday, The Friends of Frank J Wood also claimed the ruling to be a win. The organization’s president, John Graham, said that the path forward is not as clear as the Maine DOT makes it out to be.

The Friends’ interpretation of the ruling is that the Federal Highway Administration made up service life costs that Maine DOT used to justify their belief that the bridge should be replaced.

In an interview Wednesday, Graham said that the “service life costs” analysis that Maine DOT used did not align with the industry standard. Those estimates, calculated in 2017, came in at $17.3 million for the new bridge and $35.2 million for rehabilitation.

The judge has now asked for the Federal Highway Administration to review a “life cycle cost” analysis, Graham said, which under 2017 Maine DOT estimates translates to $13.7 million for the new bridge and $21 million for rehabilitation — a 53% difference.

Graham, who disagrees with both of the 2017 Maine DOT estimates, said he will push the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a new, independent analysis, which he believes will show estimates that equally favor rehabilitation.

The Frank J Wood Bridge was built in 1932. The average daily traffic for the bridge is about 19,000 vehicles.

In 2017, Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Bridge Foundation filed a lawsuit alleging the Federal Highway Administration and Maine DOT relied on inaccurate information to artificially inflate the projected costs of rehabilitating the existing bridge.

In February 2021 a federal judge ruled in favor of Maine DOT’s plans to replace the bridge. By March 2021, the Friends group had filed paperwork to begin its appeal of the ruling.

In November 2021, following two capacity reductions, The Times Record reported that the primary concern by Maine DOT is that the weight of a commercial vehicle could puncture the deck of the bridge and render the structure completely unusable.

This story was updated at 10:05 a.m. Jan. 6, 2022, to remove potentially inaccurate information regarding the payment of court costs.

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