U.S. Senator Ed Markey was on the Cape late last week for a lengthy meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers. The topic: finding a way to fund building two new bridges to replace the aging Bourne and Sagamore bridges. WCAI's Kathryn Eident spoke with reporter Sarah Tan to learn more.
Eident: Well, getting funding to replace the bridges isn't easy. We know that, and Markey and some other federal lawmakers from Massachusetts, including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Bill Keating, have co-sponsored a bill that could ease the way for bridge funding. We actually heard from Keating last week on this topic. The "Escape Act".
So, why is language to fund bridges buried in this bill, which is to upgrade evacuation routes nationwide. Why do that instead of just asking for the money outright?
Tan: So, going back a little bit, Markey was here late last week to discuss with the Army Corps that the escape act is going to be allotting around one billion dollars of federal money to states across the country to update their escape routes for disasters. But, I did hear from a staffer of Markey's that another reason he's behind this bill is specifically to help the Cape rebuild the Sagamore and Bourne bridges which he said were in need of replacement. But, the federal government can't just allot money directly towards rebuilding the bridges, because that would be called earmarking money, which is illegal.
So, they have allotted money through the evacuation routes program but an estimate of replacing the bridges put the cost at each bridge around $300 million.
Eident: Not a small price tag. And interesting too, I guess it makes sense to put the bridges in something like this given that there's only a couple of ways off Cape Cod and that would be via the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges. So, it makes sense to put funding for something like this if you're looking at upgrading evacuation plans around around the country, right
Tan: Absolutely, yeah. And Wendy Northcross of the Chamber of Commerce has been a very vocal supporter of the act. She has stated that these two bridges are pretty much the only way out for about 200,000 Cape residents if there is a natural disaster or any other disaster that requires an evacuation. So, rebuilding these two bridges is really an important priority for the federal government.
Eident: And of course, there would b so many more people if there was something to happen in the summertime to the Cape's population balloons. Do you know exactly what Markey was talking about with the Army Corps? Is it just to brief them on what's going on on the federal level, or is-- you know the U.S. Army Corps of course is a federal agency itself--but are gears to get a new bridge in place grinding slowly?
Tan: Yes, so they were discussing funding options since while the gederal government is agreeing to give one billion dollars, they do need to know how much exactly the Army Corps estimates they'll need to replace the bridges, and how they're going to work together to secure that funding and have other infrastructure in place for evacuations while these two bridges are under construction. So, essentially it's just the first steps of planning.
Eident: And with the Escape Act itself--we've talked so often both on NPR News and here at WCAI about gridlock and how hard it can be to get a bill passed. Is there any hope for a bill of this measure?
Tan: I guess my answer is probably not going to be satisfying to a lot of people the answer is: maybe. I did as Senator Markey that question, he mentioned that this was really just the first meeting with the Army Corps--the first of many that will be coming back and forth about cost estimates and funding. I did ask him if we can expect to see any progress in the next decade on this bridge situation, and well, he said they're in the early stages right now, but he hopes so.
Eident: So, we'll have to wait and see, but I think it's interesting that there's even talk going on about these bridges. We've heard a lot from locals in the past couple of years, but now we're hearing something on the federal level that's WCAI's Sarah Tan-- thanks so much for the update.
Tan: Thanks Kathryn.
*This transcript was edited lightly for grammar and clarity.