Relief Coming for Notorious Cape Cod Clog

Tue May 17, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry

When the Sagamore Rotary in Massachusetts was first built approximately 70 years ago, traffic leading to scenic Cape Cod was still light. The region was still a popular getaway, but by 2005 standards, it was an easy drive.

Times have changed, though, and so have the traffic patterns throughout metropolitan regions of the United States. The numbers have always ballooned on Cape Cod during the summer months, but today’s numbers have boomed beyond understanding.

“There was as much traffic on the Sagamore Bridge in January ’04 as there was in July ’85,” said John Carlyle, spokesman of the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway). What was once a summer tourist destination is now just as popular during the off-season.

Today, the rotary is known primarily for the bottleneck it creates for travelers trying to get to destinations on the cape. When the rotary was first built in the 1930s, it was designed for a capacity of 40,000 cars a day. That rate has more than doubled since then. Today, more than 90,000 vehicles drive around the rotary every day and the number of accidents there has increased dramatically. The numbers are indicative of a section of road that has simply become outdated.

The rotary is located at the junction of Routes 3 and 6 in Bourne, just north of the Cape Cod Canal. It is one of only two ways to drive onto the cape and serves as the primary route from Boston. Once the rotary is removed and replaced with a grade separation interchange, the amount of time needed to leave the cape will be greatly reduced, according to project officials.

People traveling from the north will be able to drive straight through without being slowed by the rotary. Route 6, a U.S. highway linking Buzzard’s Bay to the west with Sagamore Beach to the east, will be affected in the same way. Route 6 will eventually pass underneath Route 3. On and off ramps will connect each highway.

The state broke ground on Dec. 3, 2004. Gov. Mitt Romney was present for the ceremony adding his assistance with a jackhammer.

“For thousands of Cape visitors, the notorious Sagamore rotary is a living nightmare,” Romney said. “Today, we are paving the way for vacationers to spend less time trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic and more time enjoying the many treasures that Cape Cod and the Islands have to offer.”

The initial part of the project will include the addition of three temporary bridges, two of which will span the canal, before Memorial Day. The two will be parts of detours for traffic approaching the permanent Route 3 bridge. One will handle southbound traffic moving toward the cape, and the other northbound. When the bridges are installed, temporary approaches will be built leading to them. The bridges will be in place throughout the duration of the project, but they will each be located only approximately 100 ft. (30.3 m) from the permanent bridge, according to Garry Balboni, vice president of operations of ET&L Construction of Stow, MA, the primary contractor for the project.

Once the work is finished, access to the permanent bridge will only be by one lane in each direction. In the past, cars crossing it have used two lanes. State officials have stated that the approach can be changed to two lanes if it creates too much of a problem. The permanent bridge, which is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, only needs minor repairs. They will be done in the fall of 2005.

The third temporary bridge will be for Church Lane, a nearby service road that is being moved to a different location near the rotary.

The project has not come without its critics. Officials of the Conservation Law Foundation have complained that the project will create more sprawl and attract more tourists to the area, which in the long run could be detrimental. If more cars come to the area, safety could also be an issue. Some people have maintained that Romney should have focused his attentions more on improving mass transportation rather than making these improvements.

The entire project carries a price tag of $58 million. Of that amount, the Federal Highway Administration will pay $28 million with another $7 million coming from the state.

One advantage of the project, is that much of the work will be done on open land and will not interfere with other roadways. Only four houses have to be removed to make way for the new road.

“We have two milestones that we want to keep,” Balboni said. “By September 2006, we want to have the roads functional. By spring 2007, we want to have the landscaping done. By this September, the public will see the improvement.”

ET&L will be assisted by a number of subcontractors. They include: P.J. Keating, paving, Lunenburg, MA; Latourneau Products Manufacturing, landscaping, East Freetown, MA; and Northeast Pile Driving, Byfield, MA.

A large number of machines are being used on the project, according to Balboni. Along with a Caterpillar D8 and D6, loaders, the fleet includes a Komatsu WA500 and John Deere 644. The Komatsu PC600 and PC 400 are used as excavators, along with Hitachi 550, Volvo 330 and Caterpillar 330. ET&L is also using Terex 35-ton (31.5 t) trucks.

Approximately 600,000 cu. yds. (456,000 cu m) of dirt will be moved during the project, according to Balboni.

“Things are going pretty well, although the area got record snows this winter,” Balboni said. The Cape Cod area received approximately 8 ft. of snow, unusual for the part of the state that lies so close to the ocean.

“We were able to push it out of the way and keep working through the winter. We’re actually ahead of the original schedule.”

The entire project is scheduled to be finished by the spring of 2007. CEG Staff