If and when the third automotive span is built across the Cape Cod Canal, Sandwich residents may find themselves mostly or totally exempt from the anticipated tolls.
Wendy K. Northcross, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, told the board of directors of the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation on Monday, August 18, that residents of the town may rate special treatment, given the impact of bridge-related traffic delays on Sandwich traffic.
“You guys are Ground Zero for this whole thing,” Ms. Northcross said.
Speaking of traffic congestion at the bridges, she said, “I believe the Town of Sandwich gets most of the negative impacts.”
The chamber executive met with the corporation board at its monthly meeting, held at town hall.
Members of the Sandwich Planning Board also attended the meeting. Ms. Northcross came to the August 18 meeting at the invitation of William Burbank, chairman of the planning board.
Ms. Northcross said a third automotive span may well be built across the canal within five to seven years.
The most likely spot is as a twin to the Sagamore Bridge, she said.
At present, the canal is crossed by two automotive bridges—the Sagamore and the Bourne bridges—and the railroad bridge at Buzzards Bay.
Ms. Northcross anticipates that a public-private partnership would undertake the financing and construction of the new bridge. She said such a partnership could build a new bridge faster, better and less expensively than the government.
The new bridge would dedicate all its lanes to traffic coming from the mainland onto the Cape.
The Sagamore Bridge lanes would be dedicated to traffic leaving the Cape.
Vehicles crossing the new span would be charged tolls, which the partnership would use to pay off the cost of building the span as well as its maintenance.
Ms. Northcross said advances in technology have opened the way for tolls to be electronically assessed on vehicles crossing the span.
Over and over again, she said, people have said that they would be willing to pay a toll to cross a bridge over the canal, but only with a quicker passage.
Rather than stopping for toll booths on the mainland side of the span, moving vehicles could be assessed tolls through devices such as chips placed in state inspection stickers, she said.
Ms. Northcross anticipates that tourists, rather than Cape residents, would shoulder much of the toll burden.
The state eventually would take over the operation and maintenance of the new span, Ms. Northcross said.
The Sagamore and Bourne bridges were very modern at the time of their construction in the mid-1930s, Ms. Northcross said.
But the bridge lanes now are too narrow by highway standards, she said, and the need for upkeep is increasing, resulting in lane closures and the further slowing of traffic.
At the best of times, she said, the bridges still represent a chokepoint for vehicles coming onto and leaving the entire Cape.
Ms. Northcross said that the highways on either side of the bridges can accommodate 3,000 vehicles per hour, while the bridges only can handle 1,100 an hour.
She said evacuation and safety concerns at the existing automotive bridges are major factors prompting the active consideration by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation of construction of a third automotive span.
The bridges as they now exist could not begin to handle the anticipated evacuation surge from the Cape in response to a serious problem at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Ms. Northcross said.
She further said that the structural integrity of the bridges has deteriorated to the point that weight restrictions may be put into place.
A major advantage of the third bridge, aside from relieving traffic congestion on summer weekends, is the options that it gives for repair and maintenance of the 1930s bridges.
Ms. Northcross said a new automotive span would allow the United States Army Corps of Engineers the opportunity to take one of the bridges off-line for a spell, allowing workers to cut steel and engage in more thorough and involved maintenance.
As for the positioning of the new bridge, Ms. Northcross said a twin to the Sagamore offers the advantage of state ownership of nearly all the necessary land.
The twin bridge may only require the taking of seven to eight spaces in the parking lot of the Market Basket supermarket in Sagamore, she said.
Another option would be to build the span midway between the Sagamore and Bourne bridges, which could tie in with a new southside connector built through Joint Base Cape Cod. But that location would require significantly more land takings, which she said would entail more delay.
Public meetings about the third automotive span likely will begin next month on the Cape, Ms. Northcross said.
Charles Ritch, a member of the corporation board, called for one of the meetings to be held in Sandwich, given the impact of the proposed new bridge on the town.