Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren have joined with Representative William Keating to urge federal and state agencies to take swift, aggressive action in a third attempt to secure nearly $1.9 billion in federal funds to replace two aging bridges spanning the Cape Cod Canal.
The Sagamore and Bourne bridges, which are nearly 90 years old, are “vital assets” to the Massachusetts economy and in “desperate need” of replacement, the lawmakers wrote in a Jan. 27 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal Office of Management and Budget.
In a letter also dated last Friday, Warren, Markey, and Keating, who represents Cape Cod and the Islands, said they were “deeply disappointed” in the state’s prior efforts and asked MassDOT to work with the Army Corps to “accelerate and better coordinate” the effort to replace the bridges, according to a copy of the letter posted by Markey’s office.
The letters were sent less than a month after the federal government rejected a $1.88 billion application from the corps and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to replace them. That setback followed an earlier disappointment when the project failed to win federal grant money in September. A new round of funding will open later this year.
“The Corps rightfully concluded in 2020 that replacing the Bridges, rather than rehabilitating them, was the ‘most cost-effective means of providing safe and reliable crossings,’” the legislators wrote in the letter to the Army Corps, which oversees the bridges that connect Cape Cod to mainland Massachusetts. “Three years have now passed since that determination, and the Bridges have only grown older. Given the state of the Bridges, it is time for the Corps to provide significant funds for this project.”
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the office of Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor confirmed the office had received the letter from the legislators and “looks forward to working together to determine the best path forward.”
“The Assistant Secretary appreciates the support of the Massachusetts congressional delegation and recognizes the urgent need to find a long-term solution for the Cape Cod bridges,” the statement said.
Representatives for the Office of Management and Budget did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
In the letter to MassDOT, Warren, Markey, and Keating asked state officials to work with the corps to “accelerate and better coordinate” the effort to replace the bridges, which they called “functionally obsolete.”
The trio of Democrats said the Biden administration awarded Massachusetts a $1.6 million planning grant for the bridges project in December, but MassDOT and the corps did not secure funds to begin work on the project under then-Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican whose tenure ended in early January.
“We are deeply disappointed that these efforts were unsuccessful during the previous administration,” they wrote. “We are hopeful that under the leadership of Governor Maura Healey and Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll, your agency can make a fresh start and execute this project with the urgency and vision it demands.”
In a statement Tuesday night, MassDOT spokesperson Jacquelyn Goddard said, “The replacement of the federally-owned Bourne and Sagamore bridges is of vital importance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "
“MassDOT is fully engaged with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and our Congressional Delegation in identifying funding opportunities to replace the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges while taking the necessary steps to advance the design to replace the federally-owned bridges,” Goddard said.
In a March 2020 study, the Army Corps of Engineers warned that side-stepping a replacement decision for the bridges, each intended to last 50 years, could force the federal government to choose rehabilitation, which last occurred in the 1980s, “in order to maintain reliability and safety of vehicular traffic over the canal.”
According to planning officials, the bridges would be rehabilitated in sequence. The Bourne Bridge would need to close completely for six months and to shut down some lanes for 16 months over three-and-a half years of construction. The Sagamore would shut down for four months and endure lane closures for a year.
The Bourne is rated as structurally deficient, and the Sagamore as fair, although there are no imminent safety concerns.
The corps analysis in 2020 envisioned building new bridges close to the originals, which would later be demolished, and transferring the new spans to state jurisdiction. Traffic would continue to flow over the current bridges while the new ones are built.
This story has been updated.