You might call this the final installment of my “Wait, Wait” trilogy: waiting for new bridges crossing the canal. While we are in no rush to see the big hurricane I wrote about in August, and we soon would like to pedal the Shining Sea Bikeway extension I wrote about last month, we are also eager to see better highway connections between the mainland and Cape sides of Bourne.
The most common questions we hear about the new bridges are when will they be ready to use and what will they look like. Let’s start with the easier question first. The new bridges will almost certainly be a form of cable-stayed design like the Zakim/Bunker Hill Bridge connecting Boston with Charlestown and the new Tappan Zee Bridge crossing the Hudson River.
Cable-stayed bridges are about 30 percent less expensive to build than other design types, and construction time is considerably faster. Nearly all bridges spanning 300 to 3,000 feet built in the past 50 years have been of this basic type. Some have single pylons holding the cables, but most have two and some have multiple pylons over much longer total lengths. Roadways can run through the pylons, be cantilevered on either or both sides, or a combination of these, as on the Zakim Bridge.
So, when will the new bridges be done? As someone who has co-managed construction projects with both the Army Corps of Engineers and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, I had to chuckle at news reports predicting the bridges would open in five years. That might be how long it takes to build the bridges, but there is a lot of work to be done before construction can begin. This project also includes replacement of the Bourne Bridge rotary with a conventional interchange and other improvements to access roads at both bridges. The Corps will manage construction of the bridges, while the state will manage the roadway improvements.
Once agreement is reached on the basic bridge design and road improvements, detailed design, engineering and permitting can begin. At the same time, land acquisition will begin, some of which is likely to involve eminent domain takings. Each bridge, and each segment of highway work, will require full environmental impact statements and detailed economic impact studies. And getting funds appropriated for development and construction from both state and federal sources will be a continuing and challenging effort.
If this project is given highest priority, quickly funded and fast-tracked by both the Corps and the state, construction could begin within 10 years, and the bridges could be open by 2034, exactly 100 years after the current bridges opened to traffic. Related road work might take longer. Given the track record of these agencies, however, a more realistic date might be 2040 or later. Remember Boston’s “Big Dig”?
Virtual public meetings explaining the current state of program design and progress have been scheduled for November 16 and 18 by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. For links to these meetings as well as earlier reports, log onto www.capecodcommission.org/our-work/cape-cod-canal-study-resources/. There you will also be able to sign up for continuing notification of program updates and meetings. What else can you do? Just wait and see.