Army Corps considers turning Cape Cod Canal bridges over to the state
By ETHAN GENTER | Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. | Published: October 18, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has talked about handing over control of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges to the state after replacing them.
"That's definitely something that's been in discussion," Craig Martin, the Corps' project manager in the New England District, said Thursday.
The Corps released a draft report earlier this month recommending the bridges be replaced, and it is currently seeking public input on the potential project. Since the Corps has not definitely decided on replacement, no official memorandum of understanding between the Corps and the state has been made, he said.
"Nothing has been formalized," Martin said.
The bridges are the only two links for vehicles between the mainland and Cape Cod but are not what is typically found in the Corps' portfolio. The federal government acquired the Cape Cod Canal in 1928 and was authorized to build the bridges in 1933. The bridges were completed in 1935 and, at 84 years old, no longer meet modern roadway standards.
Most of the Corps bridges across the country are much smaller than the Bourne and Sagamore spans and normally connect to other infrastructure, such as dams.
"Typically the Corps doesn't manage traffic bridges like these," spokesman Timothy Dugan said.
A bridge similar to the Cape crossings that the Corps manages is the Sen. William V. Roth Jr. Bridge, which spans the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. That bridge was used as a model for the proposed cross-sections of the Bourne and Sagamore replacements.
"We really only have a handful of really large bridges," Martin said.
The idea of divesting the bridges to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has been discussed because the bridges are such a critical link for the state road network and traffic bridges are not usually part of the federal agency's core mission, he said.
But creating such a memorandum of understanding between the Corps and the state could be a long way off.
"We have to get to the decision first," Martin said of bridge replacement.
The Corps is still taking public comments on its draft report, which recommends building two six-lane bridges adjacent to the existing spans. The comment period ends Nov. 1, and a final report is slated to be done in February. A decision on whether to replace the bridges is not expected until the spring.
The project would ultimately have to be included in the Corps budget and be approved by Congress.
Massachusetts Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and the Cape's congressional representative, William Keating, sent a letter to the Army Corps on Thursday urging the federal agency to provide all of the necessary funding to replace the bridges in its 2020 work plan.
"These bridges connect the nearly 250,000 residents on the Cape and Islands to the rest of Massachusetts and connect the rest of the country to this beating heart of the Massachusetts tourism economy," the legislators' letter to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite says.
"We believe that the new draft report represents significant progress toward addressing the construction needs of these two critical infrastructure projects, and ask that you devote the full resources necessary for completing this vital work," the letter states.
Allocating initial funds to solicit design and construction work would "represent a significant down payment and a responsible long-term investment in this critical infrastructure project."
The lawmakers also note a prospective divestment of the bridges to the state after their completion.
"We understand that the (Corps) will soon sign a memorandum of understanding with MassDOT that includes a plan to divest these federal bridges to state control after the (Corps') construction work is complete," they wrote. "The (Corps') investment of initial funds in FY 2020 will ensure that this process begins on schedule, avoids increasing costs brought on by project delays, and facilitates the state's takeover of these bridges as soon as possible. We applaud this goal because we believe it will lead to the best result for Massachusetts, while also helping to reduce the (Corp's) future workload and amounts spend on Operations and Maintenance."
The state Department of Transportation has a memorandum of understanding with the Corps that says the two agencies will collaborate through the project to replace the bridges, but it does not have a memorandum that specifies the department would take over ownership and maintenance of the two bridges, a department spokeswoman said via email.
Markey hopes to get all major players on the project together in the coming weeks, according to his office.
The topics mentioned in the lawmakers' letter are not on the Corps' plate at the moment, Dugan said.
"A lot of this is well beyond where we are at," he said. "Our focus is finishing the report."
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