The Biden administration is awarding the state nearly $400 million toward replacing one of the two aging Cape Cod bridges, providing a key piece to the multibillion-dollar project’s financial puzzle and, supporters say, a strong indication Massachusetts could be in line for more federal money.
Federal lawmakers said Friday night that the federal government approved the state and US Army Corps of Engineers’ application for $372 million in grant money for replacing the Sagamore Bridge. The 88-year-old arching structure and the nearby Bourne Bridge provide the only roads on and off the Cape, and were intended to last a half-century.
“This is a breakthrough moment,” US Senator Elizabeth Warren said in a phone interview. The Cambridge Democrat, Senator Edward Markey, and US Representative Bill Keating, a Bourne Democrat, announced the award Friday night.
“It’s taken a lot of work to get here and there will be more work before we see both of those bridges finished. But this is a breakthrough,” she said. “The path forward now is much smoother.”
State officials have estimated replacing both bridges will cost $4.5 billion. In a major shift from her predecessor, Governor Maura Healey this year said she would first pursue federal funds to initially replace the Sagamore, which officials say alone will cost more than $2.1 billion.
The $372 million is one step toward realizing it. It also signaled the state could be in a good position to grab an even bigger chunk of federal help: More than $1 billion in grant funding that it applied for earlier this month through the federal Bridge Investment Program.
An announcement on whether the state scored that funding is likely months away. But Markey said Friday’s announcement puts the state “on third base with the lead” to win the additional money.
“This $372 million grant shows clearly that the Biden administration believes that this is a very important project,” he said.
Healey in a statement called the funding a “big win.”
“Our administration said from day one that we were going to compete aggressively for federal funding to bring home to support crucial infrastructure projects in Massachusetts, like the Cape Cod Bridges project,” she said.
The announcement is a stark reversal from the state’s previous pursuits of federal funding. It whiffed on $3 billion in requests to fund the replacement of both bridges under former governor Charlie Baker, throwing doubt on when, or whether, the state could begin the lengthy replacement plan.
The project is a complex one. The bridges are owned by the federal government but will eventually be turned over to the state once replaced. They’re considered functionally obsolete, and officials have said pursuing long, costly fixes in lieu of replacement could be catastrophic to crossings that carry tens of millions of cars each year.
“There’s only so many times you can put lipstick on a pig before the pig won’t even get you to the market,” Markey said in October.
Officials have said that without replacing or fixing each bridge, they’ll be forced to permanently close a lane in each direction by 2032 on the Bourne Bridge and 2036 on the Sagamore Bridge.
The current $4.5 billion price tag is an increase from a projected $4 billion just last year and roughly $1 billion just a few years ago. Even before the latest jump in estimated cost, it was already considered one of the most expensive bridge projects in the country. That means its requests for federal funding would, too, stand among the highest.
Healey has promised to double the state’s financial commitment to the project up to $700 million. State officials hope another $350 million that President Biden proposed and was included in a wide-ranging US Senate appropriations bill also survives in Congress.
The Healey administration estimates that for the Sagamore Bridge alone, construction on a new bridge would begin in late calendar year 2028 and would last until late 2035 or early 2036.
State officials said they plan to replace the Sagamore Bridge first because it carries nearly 17,000 more cars on average each day than the Bourne. At some point later, the state plans to seek federal funding to replace the Bourne.
“Once this Sagamore funding is completely secure, then the very next day we’ll begin fighting for replacement money for the Bourne bridge as well,” Markey said.