Funding Next Hurdle for Canal Bridge Replacements

BOURNE – Plans to replace the aging Bourne and Sagamore Bridges are facing competition for funding from other projects around the nation.

Cape Cod Commission Deputy Director Steven Tupper said although legislators are exploring grant opportunities through the federal infrastructure bill, other projects are also seeking money.

“There’s a lot of important projects across the nation, but I think that we’ll be competitive in a number of these programs, given the depth and breadth of the impacts if you were to have an issue at the bridges,” Tupper said.

Tupper said the state has committed $300 million in funds for the work. He reported the Army Corps of Engineers previously estimated the work would cost around $1.6 billion, so significant federal money will be needed.

The new bridges are planned to have auxiliary lanes to improve traffic flow as well as up-to-date medians, shoulders, and bike access.

Tupper highlighted structural elements of the canal bridges that make them difficult to maintain.

“The fact that there are no shoulders means that anytime you do anything from painting to changing a lightbulb, you have to close lanes of traffic. And that’s really a challenge in terms of maintenance,” Tupper said.

He added that when the bridges were first in use in 1935, it was anticipated they would see about 80,000 vehicles a month. Now on average, there are roughly 100,000 cars crossing over them a day.

The Army Corps of the Engineers owns and maintains the current bridges. Although the bridges are safe, Tupper stated they are also outdated with narrow lanes, limited pedestrian access, and they require increasing levels of maintenance.

The Army Corps performed a study a few years ago to decide the best long-term plan for the bridges. An option to maintain the current structures and fix them as needed was ruled out.

A plan to do major rehabilitations to the old bridges was also eliminated because it would cause too many traffic impacts and closures.

The study concluded the best plan was to build replacement bridges. One benefit will be that the new structures would be in place before the old bridges are removed, so traffic could shift over at that point.

 “While the Army Corps of Engineers has been very diligent in maintaining these structures, this is not a typical piece of infrastructure within their portfolio, whereas MassDOT has much more experience maintaining these large-scale bridges as part of their overall transportation network in the Commonwealth,” he said.

Tupper encouraged members of the public to stay part of the conversation about the upcoming bridge replacements by checking out MassDOT’s and the Cape Cod Commission’s sites related to the projects.      

By Brian Engles, NewsCenter

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