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Cape Cod bridge expansion 'imprudent,' one expert says. Some call for alternatives

The Bourne and Sagamore bridges have been the gateway to Cape Cod since 1935.
US Army Corps of Engineers
The Bourne and Sagamore bridges have been the gateway to Cape Cod since 1935.

The proposed replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges — the gateways to Cape Cod — represents a transportation plan that would last for generations. Over the next few weeks, CAI will air a series of conversations, informed by interviews with people who see the bridge proposal from different points of view. This is the first of those conversations, between Morning Edition host Patrick Flanary and reporter Jennette Barnes.

FLANARY: The Bourne and Sagamore bridges connect Cape Cod to the mainland, and their condition is deteriorating. Both opened in 1935. The proposed $4 billion dollar plan to replace the bridges has recently been denied two federal grants. Over the next couple of weeks, CAI is bringing our listeners different perspectives on the bridge project. CAI reporter Jennette Barnes joins us now with the first of those conversations. Hi, Jennette.

BARNES: Hi, Patrick.

FLANARY: You’ve been talking with some of the big transportation thinkers in Massachusetts. One of them is Jim Aloisi, who is a former state transportation secretary. And he’s a board member of the advocacy group TransitMatters. I understand he’s questioning the wisdom of the bridge replacement plan.

BARNES: That’s right. Aloisi, like many people in the transit world, is an advocate of multi-modal transportation – so yes, cars, but also rail, buses, and ferries. And he says not only should we be thinking bigger about how to get people to and from Cape Cod, but the bridge replacement plan, he believes, does not make sense.

ALOISI (on tape): The proponents of more road widening and more bridge expansion really haven't learned from history. And every piece of data, every lesson from history is that any roadway, highway, bridge expansion is typically followed by the same levels of congestion. If you build it, people will come. … If we're going to have this level of expenditure, it really needs to be prudently spent, and spending it on highway expansion is imprudent.

FLANARY: “Expansion” Aloisi is saying there… because of the “third lane” for the bridges that’s proposed?

BARNES: Yes, he says the new lane in each direction that’s being designed as an entrance and exit lane, or what the engineers call an “auxiliary lane,” is fundamentally a third lane in this case. And there will be other road widening associated with the ramps for the overall bridge system, and he says all of this just reinforces the auto-centric way that most people get to Cape Cod now. So Aloisi says we should be diverting some of that road demand to another means of transit. He doesn’t expect people who live on the Cape year round to not have cars. But he says if we could get even 10 or 15 percent of cars off the road by having some visitors take a train or a ferry, then that would make the bridges more functional at the size they are.

FLANARY: With public transit, we do have to think about how people get around once they’re on the Cape. We have bus service from the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, but if people come here without a car, could the Cape offer the level of service people would need?

BARNES: Well, that’s a good question. And I talked about that with Jarred Johnson. He’s the executive director of TransitMatters. He said the RTA is providing great service now, and any limitations it has in terms of the routes available is really about funding. Let’s listen to a bit of what he had to say.

JOHNSON (on tape): The fact that it is a bus makes it … really flexible. So this is really a question of money and resources. And I think there have been a lot of people across the entire Commonwealth that have said, "Look, we really need to fund our RTAs better."

FLANARY: What about trains on the Cape? Beyond the Cape Flyer, does it seem like there’s any real appetite for that? Because funding would be a hurdle for that as well.

BARNES: Well, there’s interest for sure, and funding would be a big commitment for any of these options. I talked with a couple of members of the Sierra Club, and one idea that came up was a Cape-only rail shuttle between Hyannis and, say, Falmouth or Bourne, to help people without cars get around once they’re here. Chris Powicki, who’s a Sierra Club member in Brewster, said they want to see the third bridge lane dedicated to alternative transportation in some way, possibly with increased bus service. I asked if that would mean barring cars from that lane, and he said it’s too soon to say. But again the idea is to prevent the bridges from just unleashing more congestion farther down the Cape. Here’s what he had to say about making it a whole-Cape type of plan:

POWICKI (on tape): If you invest more in transit and bike and other options further down Cape, you create an entire system that essentially gets some of that additional car or truck traffic off the road. And we don't have to … go from being worried about traffic and congestion at the Cape Cod Canal to being worried about it in Hyannis or in downtown Wellfleet or on Route 6A.

BARNES: So in general, the advocates are asking for a more big-picture transportation plan for the Cape.

FLANARY: CAI’s Jennette Barnes, reporting on the Cape Cod bridge replacement plan. We’ll have more perspectives on this in the days to come. Jennette, thanks for being here.

BARNES: Thanks, Patrick.

FLANARY: Tonight and Thursday, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is hosting webinars to discuss the latest on the bridge plans, including potential bridge locations. Those meetings start at 6 p.m. To receive the link, register with MassDOT by Googling “Cape Bridges” and following the instructions for the meeting.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.