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Army Corps of Engineers holding hearings on future of Cape Cod Canal bridges

The Bourne Bridge, over the Cape Cod Canal, in 2013.

By BETH TREFFEISEN | Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. | Published: December 5, 2018

BOURNE, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Questions remained unanswered as community members stated their hopes and concerns for the future of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges on Tuesday evening.

"We need to have a bigger conversation, and I can tell you that people are getting antsy about this," said Judith Froman, vice chairwoman of the Bourne Board of Selectmen.

In the first of five scheduled meetings to be held by the Army Corps of Engineers to gather public input on what to do with the two aging bridges spanning the Cape Cod Canal, residents at Bourne High School voiced their disappointment in the lack of answers provided by the federal agency.

The meeting had a presentation of possible future solutions for two bridges followed by a session of public input.

There are questions about eminent domain, providing emergency vehicle access across the bridges, environmental impacts and about the economic impacts this will have, said Froman.

"From a Bourne perspective we are hit first," said Bourne Town Administrator Thomas Guerino. "We are hit first all day, every day and every day on the weekends as well."

The Army Corps is conducting a multiyear rehabilitation evaluation of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges to determine whether major rehabilitation or replacement of either or both bridges will provide the most reliable, fiscally responsible solution for the future.

The study will result in a major rehabilitation evaluation report to evaluate the risk and reliability of the structures as well as the economic effects and benefits of a number of alternatives to deal with the bridges, including continuation of routine maintenance, major rehabilitation, and replacement.

As the process moves forward, Selectman Peter Meier, chairman of Bourne board, asked the Army Corps of Engineers not to forget the town.

"It has a regional impact on the quality of life," said Meier, but "residents of Bourne are the most affected and should be taken seriously."

Whatever happens, he said, he wants Bourne to have "a seat at the table."

These two bridges in conjunction with the Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge, provide the only means of vehicular transportation on and off the Cape and to major ports of call for the islands.

The Army Corps is in charge of the bridges over the canal, including the railroad bridge, while the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is in charge of the rotaries and roads that lead to the bridges.

MassDOT is completing its own regional multimodal transportation study of adjacent infrastructure improvements that are designed to ease traffic congestion.

The existing bridges were built 83 years ago and now require frequent maintenance, which is costly and causes significant traffic congestion around the canal.

"Maintenance and repairs are definitely not something new," said Craig Martin, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England. "In fact, each bridge has already undergone numerous individual repairs and one major rehabilitation."

The last major bridge rehab project was in early 1980s nearly 45 years ago, said Martin.

Currently both bridges are considered in overall fair and safe condition under the National Bridge Inspection Standards, said Martin. But, some portions of each bridge are in more need of significant repair than others.

Both bridges are considered "functionally obsolete," he said, meaning the vehicle travel lanes are narrow, have no medians, shoulders are nonexistent and pedestrian and bicycle access do not have proper separation from moving traffic.

Some alternatives outlined at the meeting included: major rehabilitation of each bridge as they currently exist and maintenance of the rehabbed bridges into the future; replacement of one or both bridges with a new structure built to the current authorization of four lanes, with two lanes each way to modern highway standards; and the replacement of two bridges with two lanes of travel each way with the addition of two auxiliary lanes for acceleration and deceleration lanes.

The public involvement process will be ongoing and conclude after a second round of public meetings and final comment period after the issuance of a draft environmental assessment by the Army Corps in the summer of 2019.

Longtime resident of Buzzards Bay James Mulvey suggested that the Army Corps look at a number of options beyond building a third bridge or increasing lanes on both bridges.

"I would like to see some study of the advantages economically and environmentally of a tunnel rather than a third structure or bridge," Mulvey said.

For Will Gonzalez, of Fairhaven, and Victor Pereira, of New Bedford, with the construction and general laborers' union, their top concern is safety.

Traveling back and forth on both bridges for jobs almost on a daily basis, Pereira said, "We want to go home safe too."

Both agreed it is time to build new bridges, saying it is worth the money.

Rehabbing the bridges are just putting a "Band-Aid" on the problem, said Gonzalez. "All of the Northeast construction is in bad shape and we either need to fix it or build something."

©2018 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
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