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Army Corps of Engineers to Begin Repairs Soon On First of Two Cape Cod Bridges

Tue February 21, 2023 - Northeast Edition #5
The Enterprise

The care, custody and control of both the Sagamore (top) and the nearby Bourne bridges, as well as the Cape Cod Canal, are the responsibility of the USACE. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
The care, custody and control of both the Sagamore (top) and the nearby Bourne bridges, as well as the Cape Cod Canal, are the responsibility of the USACE. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Sagamore Bridge, one of two aging bridges connecting Cape Cod to the Massachusetts mainland, will undergo a few months of repairs beginning March 1.

While the question could be raised as to why such extensive work is necessary, given how recently similar work was done on the structure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) describes it as routine.

The care, custody and control of both the Sagamore and the nearby Bourne bridges, as well as the Cape Cod Canal, are the responsibility of the USACE.

In an emailed response to the Enterprise, a Falmouth, Mass.-based news source, Bryan Purtell, a spokesperson of the USACE's New England District, said that the Army Corps "conducts thorough inspections of the bridges every two years." Those inspections, he said, are in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Repairs to the bridges are done as deemed necessary by these inspections, he said.

The upcoming work to the Sagamore, Purtell said, includes repairs to the bridge roadway, its deteriorated steel supports and concrete abutments. Maintenance work also will be done to bridge joints as well as the lighting and drainage systems.

"The bridges are old and considered structurally deficient based on the national bridge inspection standards," he explained, "but they are still reliable and maintained annually to be safe for the traveling public."

The Sagamore Bridge underwent similar upgrades and repairs in the spring of 2021, and before that in the spring of 2018. The USACE has again hired R. Zoppo Corp., a construction company in Stoughton, Mass., to do the work, Purtell said.

The federal agency announced earlier in February that lane restrictions will go into place on March 1, reducing traffic in each direction to a single lane. The USACE warns motorists planning to use the Sagamore Bridge that travel delays during the morning and afternoon peak travel periods each day throughout the work period should be expected.

Purtell told the Enterprise that the plan is to have all work on the Sagamore Bridge finished before Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to the summer season on Cape Cod. He noted that the schedule for work is weather-dependent.

Later this year, similar work on the Bourne Bridge is planned, he added. The total cost of the repairs and maintenance on both bridges is $4.17 million.

Zoppo co-owner David Zoppo confirmed to the Enterprise that his company will do the work on both structures. The Bourne Bridge work, he said, will take place between Labor Day (Sept. 4) and Indigenous Peoples' Day (Oct. 9), and expressed confidence that the work on each span will be completed within those specified dates.

Zoppo added the work his company will be doing is primarily concrete deck repairs at each end of the bridge. He also explained that his company is experienced with the work that needs to be done but noted "it's not anything we've done previously on one of those structures."

"There's been some minor repairs, here and there, to the deck," Zoppo continued, "but not anything of this size or magnitude."

Work Proceeds Despite Lack of Federal Funding

The Sagamore and Bourne bridges are each nearly 90 years old and require considerable and costly repair and maintenance, according to the USACE.

In April 2020, the agency issued a Major Rehabilitation Evaluation Report in which the Army Corps formally adopted the recommendation of its New England District to construct two new bridges that conform to modern highway design standards.

Replacing the bridges, rather than continuing to repair them, also was the recommendation of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's (MassDOT) Cape Cod Canal Region Transportation Study Group, which presented seven scenarios for improving transportation infrastructure around the canal. Each scenario was designed with the assumption that both bridges would be replaced.

MassDOT wants the current spans replaced at each location with twin bridges built adjacent to each other. One side would carry traffic arriving onto the Cape, with the other side supporting traffic heading north off Cape Cod.

A MassDOT survey showed that respondents overwhelmingly favored an arch design that replicates the current bridges.

The Enterprise reported the estimated cost of the bridge replacement project now stands at $3.9 billion. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently turned down an application for $1.8 billion to cover almost half the cost of the project.

However, $350 million has been set aside for the project in the state's latest transportation bond bill, and $1.6 million was awarded from the federal agency for bridge planning. There also is the possibility of the Cape Cod spans receiving added funding under the National Infrastructure Project Assistance program, also known as the Mega Program.

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