News of the $350 million in President Joseph R. Biden’s proposed budget specifically designated for the canal bridges replacement project has been greeted by local officials with a mix of appreciation and apprehension.
While there is appreciation for the current administration’s recognition of the need to provide a sizable portion of the project’s estimated $4 billion price tag, it is accompanied by apprehension over what the project means to residents of Bourne in terms of day-to-day disruption, and loss of both personal and commercial property.
Introductory language in President Biden’s Budget of the US Government, Fiscal Year 2024 focuses on improving the nation’s infrastructure, with specific mention made of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges and funding for their replacement as part of an overall effort to address the nation’s aging roads and bridges.
“For example, the Budget includes an initial $350 million for replacement of the Cape Cod Canal bridges,” the budget message reads, “toward a commitment of $600 million, and a legislative proposal that would allow the [Army] Corps to transfer those funds to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is better suited to design and construct the replacement bridges.”
The Budget further proposes authorizing the Army Corps to transfer ownership of the new bridges to the Commonwealth, “which would be responsible for their future operation and maintenance.”
For Bourne Select Board chairman Peter J. Meier, funding in the President’s budget “shows the urgency of this project.” Mr. Meier called the bridge replacement project the “most significant transportation infrastructure project in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the USA at this time.”
“Having the support of the President is greatly appreciated and hopefully it will be a focus moving forward within the various federal agencies,” he said.
On the plus side, Mr. Meier said the new bridges will bring infrastructure that is “new, innovative and efficient.” He noted that the spans will include new lanes and interchanges, as well as better access for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Problems that Mr. Meier sees on the horizon have to do with property takings through eminent domain in order to accommodate the space the bridges will require. Some of the land that will be taken over, he believes, will be “properties that have been in families for generations.”
He said that he fears the closure of local businesses that will put people out of work, as well as the impact of traffic congestion within the canal region.
In the aftermath of the President’s budget being released, reports surfaced that it will not survive the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives. Asked if he believes the $350 million for the bridges will survive a GOP rejection, Mr. Meier said the bridges belong to the federal government until their completion. Funding their replacement “is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” he said.
“This is a public safety matter, and since [the bridges are] owned by the Federal Government it’s their responsibility to maintain safe access to and from Cape Cod,” he said. “Quality of life, people’s properties, and businesses depend on it.”
Marie J. Oliva is the President and CEO of the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, which is dedicated to advancing economic development in the towns of Bourne, Sandwich and Wareham.
Ms. Oliva called the $350 million for new bridge construction “good news so far,” but added that the money is not a done deal yet, and with the estimated cost of the project at approximately $4 billion “other sources of funding still need to be explored.”
Asked if she believes the $350 million will survive the House, Ms. Oliva said the chamber remains “confident our congressional delegation will make this happen.”
She added that the Canal Region Chamber is concerned over the duration of the project, with construction potentially lasting seven years. The Cape’s economy, particularly Bourne’s, will be deeply impacted, she said, and the chamber “will do everything possible to mitigate congestion during the construction.”
She echoed Mr. Meier’s concerns about the possibility of residents losing their home or business to property takings. She cautioned that while those concerns are not to be taken lightly, the project design is still undetermined.
“Thus, it remains to be seen how many takings will take place and where they might be,” she said.
Barry H. Johnson is the general manager for the Bourne Recreation Authority, which oversees operations for Bourne Scenic Park off Scenic Highway in Buzzards Bay on the off-Cape side of the canal, and the Gallo Ice Arena on Sandwich Road on the Cape side. The majority of the land that both facilities are on belong to the Army Corps of Engineers, and leased to the recreation authority. Mr. Johnson said the authority does own five acres near the entrance to the park.
He said the group is closely monitoring the replacement bridges project because the approaches are expected to have a severe impact on the park. The park will still have campsites available, he said, but the number of sites “could be cut in half.”
Mr. Johnson said the loss of campsites will not only impact the authority, but the Town of Bourne as well. He said that on a given weekend, the park entertains as many as 5,000 to 6,000 people. Local businesses are patronized by those people, he said, so the loss of campsites will result in a corresponding loss in commercial revenue.
“The economics, not only on behalf of the authority but the town,” he said, “has also got to be a major consideration for us and the town working in concert.”
The canal being less than 40 feet deep and less than 600 feet across it is kind of strange that no one has mentioned putting in two tunnels. Its 2023 and they tunnelled from England to France. A tunnel would be less disruptive and less private property would have to be taken via emminent domain?
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