Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sagamore Bridge: Army Corps of Engineers gives us the big middle finger

We all agree that we need to maintain the Cape Cod Canal bridges so that a tragedy such as what happened in Minneapolis doesn't happen here.

On the other hand, we learned a very valuable lesson from the St. Anthony Falls Bridge collapse: A 1,216-foot, 10-lane bridge can be built in one year, one month and 18 days. A similar project here in Massachusetts, assuming availability of funding, would likely take 8 to 12 years, just to get the permits lined up.

The conversation about replacing the Bourne and Sagamore bridges has been reignited by the Great Mother's Day Gridlock of 2012. And for good reason. These bridges were completed in 1935 and have long been inadequate to accommodate the traffic to and from Cape Cod, particularly during the tourist months from April through October.

The Sagamore Bridge traffic crisis, however, is an immediate problem that will not be mitigated with a long-term solution. The Army Corps of Engineers has been working diligently for years to maintain the two canal bridges, ensuring safety and lengthening lifespans. It does appear, though, that the pace of preventive maintenance (PM) has picked up over the past five years with joint and deck replacements and now the repair and replacement of structural components.

This accelerated PM schedule has not gone unnoticed by locals, one of whom I visited yesterday, the owner of a Bourne restaurant whose Mother's Day business was decimated by the hours long traffic jam leaving the Cape. Everyone who would normally head down to her restaurant, including many people with confirmed reservations, gave up when they realized that they'd be tied up in traffic for over an hour.

Frustration abounds among commuters, visitors, businesses, and residents just trying to get around town. Anticipating the impending disaster on Mother's Day, the Cape Cod delegation of legislators requested that the Army Corps' contractor clear the bridge for the weekend, or at least for Sunday. The response back was a clear waving of the proverbial middle finger, citing lack of progress on the repair work due to the inclement weather over the past two weeks. That's understandable, but the fact that one of the two shifts scheduled for Sunday was called off is not. Is it possible that too many workers called in sick on Mother's Day?

Bridge crossers waited in a giant, New York city style gridlock for hours only to discover no one, not a single person, working on the bridge. The disrespect for the people traveling to and from Cape Cod by the Army Corps and their contractor is incredible. They claim that the three hours it takes to move the equipment off the bridge is not doable. Compared to what, I ask? How much time, fuel, frustration, missed appointments, late arrivals to work, etc., do we collectively have to endure because three hours of their time trumps the tens of thousands of hours that we waste?

The Cape delegation of state legislators asked for a number of changes to mitigate the problem:

1) "Smart" cones that provide up-to-the-minute traffic data that would be shared online, on the 511 info line, and on radio stations. That request has not been addressed but we'll press for that for the fall lane closures.

2) Moving the equipment off the bridge on weekends. The three-hour process of moving the equipment (about 11 pieces, best I can tell) would be a much better alternative to leaving thousands of people wasting their time waiting to leave Cape Cod.

3) Closing the Exit 1 on-ramp. The traffic people are not convinced that this will increase the number of cars crossing the bridge. If it does not, then the effect will be that the line on Route 6 will grow longer. However, the traffic jam in Sandwich would be lessened with only the cars headed for the Bourne Bridge traveling via 6A and the side streets of Sandwich. I'm willing to give it a shot while measuring the traffic count crossing the bridge so that we know for sure if closing the Exit 1 entrance would improve the situation.

4) Accessing the base as an alternate route. We also requested this as a temporary solution and were turned down because a) the 24/7 security of the MMR cannot be compromised, and 2) the condition of the roads that would be used are only fair now and would not support the increased traffic. All of this is debatable, of course, but we did make the request.

We'll continue to push for changes to the traffic plan (or lack of one) over the summer with the hope that we can lessen the pain when the Army Corps picks up on this project after Labor Day.


  1. Thank you to our delegates!

    I had heard that a lot of work isn't done in the Fall because of how beneficial the shoulder season is to the cape economy, which would be mainly on the weekends. What if we let the work be done during the Fall and Spring months, Monday thru Friday. So that the bridges could remain all lanes open on the weekends? And the work still gets done outside the summer months.

    I know this wouldn't change the week day problems, but the weekend grid lock wouldn't be as bad.

    As far as the base goes, besides the Coast Guard and the house of corrections, what is out there that requires all the security. That being said, why not let locals (maybe with voluntary back ground checks, similar to what is being done for frequent fliers) pay to get a transponder, similar to the E-Z pass to access the base to cut thru. The money collected from the transponder purchase could be used to pay for road up keep. Plus if there are problems there would be a record of who is out there. Just thinking outside the box. Plus I'm sure businesses in Falmouth, Pocasset etc. wouldn't mind the extra folks heading their way.

    I do have a concern about the "fencing" being done on the median strip on the mid-cape. If we ever do have a need for a cape-wide evacuation and folks are stuck on the mid-cape and decide it would be better to go back home and hunker down, wouldn't it be safer if they were able to cut across the median if they're between exits and traffic isn't moving.

  2. I think the Army Corps of Engineers needs to mitigate the impact of bridge repairs on the towns of Sandwich and Bourne. We all know that the roads in Sandwich are jammed with cars trying to find a faster way to the bridge. This increases wear and tear on our roads and hurts local businesses. While we are at it, there should be some mitigation for the erosion problems at Town Neck that are directly related to the Cape Cod Canal.

  3. I agree with Anon. 10:10 AM. To be fair to the towns such as Sandwich with infrastructure damage due to the extensive road use associated with the repairs, that makes perfect sense. I would imagine it is unprecedented and likely not achievable but what good policy that might be. It would inspire the Army Corps to do better planning hopefully.

    The article in today's Cape Cod Times comes after the problem. It makes sense that paying attention to the shoulder season is smart. We are a tourist economy. But could the Army Corp look at a more flexible way of getting the work done and not creating such congestion. From what I have seen it is seems to be a question of lack of flexibility and staff to deal with timely changes in the traffic patterns that would help. Thank you to the Cape Delegation, other officials, and our local Chambers of Commerce for their continued efforts to lobby for a better result on our behalf.

  4. Randy, I am unable to read the posts concerning the school committee. The bottom link indicates WWW.GOOGL?

  5. Hi, Frank. I decided to move along from the school committee "discussion" by taking it down. The comment summaries will "flush out" once enough new comments on other subjects are posted.



  6. Greg the originalMay 23, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    Randy,a good decision! Perhaps it will cause the opposing forces to actually talk in order to fix the broken wheel. Thank you for allowing us to vent considering the amount of work it took for you to offer us this venue.


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