The Sagamore Bridge

The rigid structural elements and graceful curves of the Sagamore Bridge have spanned the Cape Cod Canal since the 1930s.

An amendment filed by US Rep. William R. Keating (D-Bourne) to provide $5 million for infrastructure at the Bourne and Sagamore bridges was passed in the House Tuesday, June 25.

The funding will be included in the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.

The amendment is specifically designated to fund the design of replacement bridge infrastructure for federally designated escape routes.

Last month, Mr. Keating reintroduced the Enhancing the Strength and Capacity of America’s Primary Evacuation Routes Act, legislation that dedicates $1 billion of federal resources to expand the capacity and improve the resilience of the nation’s evacuation routes.

His original cosponsor in the House is Rep. John Garamendi (D-California). Massachusetts Sens. Edward J. Markey (D) and presidential candidate Elizabeth A. Warren (D) reintroduced the legislation in the Senate.

Mr. Keating said of the amendment approved this week that, as the nation’s bridges near the end of their useful lives, it is important “to prioritize funding for the design of new structures needed to replace these out of date and outmoded bridges.”

It is particularly critical for bridges that provide critical means of evacuation for an area, such as the Cape’s two bridges, he said.

“When these structures are owned by the United States government, we have both a legal and a moral responsibility to ensure that they are adequate to the demands put upon them,” he said.

Mr. Keating noted that more than 200,000 of his constituents live on the Cape. In the event of an emergency, their only available evacuation route is over the Cape Cod Canal bridges. Built from 1935 to 1938, they were “constructed for the age of the Model T, and not the age of the SUV,” he said.

“The Canal bridges are now insufficient for the needs of the Cape and islands community,” he said.

He pointed out that the lanes on the bridges are too narrow, and do not reflect current federal highway standards. They also lack a breakdown lane for use in the event of an emergency. On a busy summer weekend, the traffic can back up for miles, and that congestion would pose a real risk to public safety during an emergency, he said.

Mr. Keating said the bridges have reached the end of their useful lives, and modern replacements will be needed within the next several years. Those replacements must be designed soon “so that the United States Government can live up to its responsibility to provide transit for Cape Cod residents and visitors over the Cape Cod Canal—especially in the event of an emergency,” he said.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has agreed with the assessment that the two bridges are in need of replacement. The estimated cost to replace the spans has been placed at $1 billion.

MassDOT’s recommendation to replace the two spans was included in a final draft report compiled by the Cape Cod Canal Transportation Study Group. The report took five years to compose and suggests a number of additional changes to make traffic on Cape Cod’s access points more efficient.

The scenario the transportation study group recommended was labeled Case 3A. Topping its list of suggested changes is approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers to replace the two bridges.

Other suggested changes in Case 3A include moving Exit 1C on the westbound side of the Mid-Cape Highway closer to the entrance to the Sagamore Bridge and the Christmas Tree Shops; making Belmont Circle a smaller roundabout; changing the Bourne Bridge Rotary into an interchange with signalized intersections and a slip road from the northbound side of MacArthur Boulevard to Sandwich Road; an auxiliary road on the eastbound side of Route 6 to run from the Sagamore Bridge to Exit 2; a new road providing direct access to Route 25 West from Scenic Highway.

Since both bridges are under the care of the Army Corps, funding would come from the federal level. A separate study of the bridges has been undertaken by the Army Corps. The study is exploring the possibilities of replacement or major refurbishment. That study is anticipated to be finished sometime this summer.

At 83 years old each, both bridges are well beyond their expected life, the transportation study group has said. They do not meet modern specifications and require more frequent and extensive repairs. The Bourne Bridge had to undergo substantial repair work this spring. Similar sweeping repairs were made to the Sagamore Bridge a year ago.

The repairs required lane closures that caused significant traffic headaches for commuters. The Cape business community has called for the bridges to be replaced to avoid such traffic nightmares. Business leaders have argued that the work has an adverse impact on tourism during the Cape’s shoulder season.

The new bridges would be substantially different in size and characteristics than the current 48-foot wide, two-lanes-in-each-direction spans. The study group’s draft report suggests a width of up to 138 feet, with six 12-foot-wide lanes, a 10-foot-wide median, a 12-foot-wide shared use path and a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on each side.

Mr. Keating said that the funding approved this week will help communities across the country pay for the costly design phase of new spans. He said that the designs are imperative, otherwise it is impossible to reach a precise estimate on the scope of work and the cost of replacement.

“That is why my amendment is so important, not only for our community, but communities like ours around the country,” he said.

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