Army Corps calls for replacing Cape Cod Canal bridges

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The Army Corps of Engineers has called for replacing the "functionally obsolete" Bourne and Sagamore bridges in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, saying the estimated $1.5 billion necessary would be more cost-effective than rehabilitating them.

"New replacement bridges would have significantly higher reliability and lower probability of failure than the existing bridges would have moving forward with the rehabilitation plan," the Army Corps said in a draft version of an evaluation report released Thursday,

The Corps' New England District operates and maintains the bridges as part of its ownership and operation of the Cape Cod Canal, which they traverse.

Massachusetts' Department of Transportation proposed a similar fix in May. The commonwealth has recommended an overhaul of several access roads to both bridges, $350 million for which Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed in his $18 billion transportation bond bill, which lawmakers will debate.

Baker discussed the project over the summer with Army Corps officials in Washington. The commonwealth has already earmarked $10 million in capital to begin environmental coordination.

"The Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be a necessary partner in any rehabilitation or replacement project," the Army Corps report said. "However, the state’s principal role would involve redesign and relocation of connecting highways and roadways if bridge replacement is pursued."

After a public comment period, the Corps will finalize its decision, District Engineer Col. William Conde said in a statement. The report will also undergo an independent external peer review from private and academia sectors. The district expects to submit its final report to its Washington headquarters in February.

The Corps has scheduled five public hearings on the Cape throughout October.

The 84-year-old bridges, are the only two road links connecting the Cape with the rest of Massachusetts across the canal. They provide the only vehicular access to 15 Cape communities with nearly 215,000 year-round residents and a population increase of up to 300% at summer tourist season peak.

Traffic volumes have spiked significantly since the 1930s, with trucks and sport utility vehicles in recent years worsening the wear.

According to the Corps' draft, each new bridge would feature two widened travel lanes in each direction, and an auxiliary lane on both sides. Plans also call for a separate bicycle and pedestrian lanes, which the existing bridges lack.

The existing bridges would remain open during construction, which could start in 2025. Demolition would begin after the new bridges are finished.

Corps officials said it would need to acquire 11 acres for the new Bourne Bridge and about 4.5 acres for the Sagamore. It estimated the costs of acquisition, improvements and business relocation at $7.8 million per bridge.

The Cape Cod Canal, which opened in 1916 to help reduce travel times for ships heading south from Boston, spans seven miles and connects Cape Cod Bay with Buzzards Bay. The Bourne and Sagamore bridges opened 19 years later.

According to the Corps, delays in federal funding could force short-term rehabilitation and drive up the cost.

"If bridge replacement is approved, any delay in implementing that work would require rehabilitation to proceed," the report said.

"In other words, any appreciable delay in decision-making or funding could force the government to pursue major rehabilitation instead of bridge replacement in order to maintain reliability and safety of vehicular traffic over the canal in the near term."

Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. William Keating said they would push for federal funding.

"We can’t allow the Sagamore and Bourne bridges to remain in disrepair," Markey said.

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Infrastructure State budgets Transportation industry Charlie Baker Commonwealth of Massachusetts Massachusetts Washington DC