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Public officials fall short on one of two bids to replace Cape bridges

Public officials fell short in one of two bids to secure more than $1 billion in federal funding toward replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore (above) bridgesJessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Public officials fell short in one of two bids to secure more than $1 billion in federal funding toward replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, a blow that left them “disappointed” as they wrangle with questions over how to pay for the critical infrastructure project.

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ application for Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, grant money failed when the US Department of Transportation last week declined to include the bridge replacements on a list of 26 projects set to split funding.

Another grant application filed at the same time as the unsuccessful bid remains pending, so the failure does not close the door entirely on acquiring newly available federal grant dollars to replace a pair of bridges that predate World War II. But it still represents a setback as overseers stare down a price tag that could soar as high as almost $4 billion amid rampant inflation.

“I can say that we’re disappointed in the result but continue to look for other grant opportunities to further this project,” said US Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Bryan Purtell. “We will continue to work with MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to identify all opportunities.”

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Purtell said the Army Corps, which owns the bridges and was the lead applicant for grant funding, “is not entertaining interviews on this topic.”

The state’s two US senators and the congressman representing Cape Cod also described themselves as “disappointed” in the outcome.

“We commend the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the US Army Corps of Engineers for taking advantage of every available funding opportunity made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman William Keating said in a joint statement to the News Service. “While we are disappointed that the project to replace the Bourne and Sagamore bridges was not selected for an Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant, we will continue to work alongside our colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, the Biden administration, and state authorities in Massachusetts to enhance coordination among the entities involved and ensure this project is funded to replace these critical lifelines to the Cape and Islands.”

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Under an agreement reached in 2020, the Corps will retain ownership and management of the 87-year-old spans while they are demolished and new bridges are built, then transfer ownership and operation to Massachusetts.

The Baker administration said at the time that the federal government will be responsible for the costs of construction and demolition while disclosing that the memorandum of understanding does not formally bind any federal agencies to paying for the project.

Officials projected in 2019 it would cost between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion to remove and replace both bridges. In May, Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said the Army Corps now expects the price tag to range from “close to $3 billion to close to $4 billion.”

It’s not clear how much money officials hoped to get toward replacing the bridges, which represent the only roadway route on and off Cape Cod for more than 260,000 residents and 5 million visitors every year, through the INFRA program.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials in May said the combined application for the INFRA grant and a MEGA grant sought $1.113 billion for the project. Purtell, the Army Corps spokesperson, said he was not immediately able to enumerate the breakdown in grant funding sought between the two programs.

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A spokesperson for MassDOT, which in May published a press release with the $1.113 billion figure counting both grant applications, said the department “defers to the (Army Corps) for the breakdown.”

At the time officials submitted their proposal for grant dollars, Keating said he had “no anticipation whatsoever that the application will be rejected,” according to the Cape Cod Times.

The Biden administration announced Thursday it would direct $1.5 billion in INFRA grants to 26 highway, multimodal freight and rail projects across the country. Awards range in scale from $10 million for a highway expansion in Minnesota to $150 million for construction of a new toll road and port of entry at Otay Mesa in California.

It was one round of funding in a program the administration projects will provide about $8 billion over a five-year period.

The federal government expects to award MEGA grants in the coming months, and Tesler said he believes that program is the “best fit” for the project.

“We are hopeful that that will be more positive than the INFRA grant, which we did apply for, but we understood that may not be the best avenue for this,” Tesler told MassDOT’s board of directors.

Tesler told the board his team would work with the Army Corps and the state’s congressional delegation to “press our case” for the grant application that remains pending.

“These competitive grants are vital to the long-term needs for those federal assets to get federal funding, so we are working incredibly closely with the Corps,” he said. “But these are federally owned bridges and we feel strongly that these competitive grants, hopefully the (MEGA) grant program, is a successful place for us to begin getting federal funding for the federally owned bridges.”

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