Federal Bill Could Impact Future of Cape Cod Canal Bridges

WASHINGTON – A bill filed in both the House and Senate could pave the way for a long-term funding solution for the aging Bourne and Sagamore Bridges.

Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Bill Keating introduced legislation that would dedicate $1 billion in federal money to improve the resiliency and capacity of major evacuation routes, a category both bridges fall under.  

The lawmakers say the Enhancing the Strength and Capacity of America’s Evacuation Routes Act, or the ESCAPE Act, comes in response to the challenges presented by major evacuations ahead of natural disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Locally, the bill could have a significant impact as the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges move beyond 80 years of use.

“The bridges over the Cape Cod Canal are the lifeline for all of the residents of the Cape and Islands. It is important that we recognize that the Canal Bridges, and other critical evacuation infrastructure across the nation, play a fundamental role in providing for the public safety of countless Americans,” Keating said. “Undoubtedly, ensuring we provide the funding necessary for the safest, most resilient evacuation routes should be paramount.”

“With both manmade and natural disasters continuing to threaten our residents, the ESCAPE Act will provide much-needed infrastructure security so people on the Cape— and around the country —can focus on finding safety for their loved ones in emergency situations, not whether the route to that safety will be able to get them there,” Keating added.

The proposed legislation was met with approval by the leaders of several key local business organizations.

“Here on Cape Cod, residents and visitors have basically two roads in and two roads out,” said Wendy Northcross, the Chief Executive Officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “In the event of a major weather event or other emergency, Cape Codders would be squarely left in harm’s way, with few and insufficient alternatives for escape.  We fully support national planning for evacuation routes enabling community resilience and economic sustainability.”

“It’s imperative that we look at a long-term solution to ensure public safety,” said Marie Oliva, the President & CEO of the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber. “Both bridges are functionally obsolete requiring maintenance every year. The type of congestion that occurs annually due to these very old bridges will require a good hard look at how to resolve the problem.”

The Federal Highway Administration reports the Boston area would face several challenges in the event a mass evacuation was needed. The lawmakers specifically cited Cape Cod, with its population of over 200,000 and only two exit options, as an area of particular concern.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in the midst of a study examining the future of the bridges and whether they need to be replaced.

It has been estimated the replacement project, if recommended, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Questions have been raised about how quickly funding for new bridges could be obtained.

“Transportation related issues continue to be a priority facing all public and private organizations,” said Tom Cahir, the Administrator of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. “The roadways in our region were not constructed to accommodate the volumes of traffic that now are an everyday occurrence…This bill, when enacted, will be beneficial to our region.”

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