Bourne, Sagamore bridges eyed for rebirth

Army Corps tells Vineyarders replacement is one of three options for 83-year-old structures.

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Craig Martin led an audience through a presentation on bridge possibilities Tuesday night. — Rich Saltzberg

The Bourne and Sagamore Bridges are the subject of a budding study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether the two Depression-era structures will be maintained as usual, majorly restored, or replaced.

At the Performing Arts Center Tuesday night, Corps project manager Craig Martin walked a thin audience through a PowerPoint presentation on the two bridges, and outlined the scope of the Major Rehabilitation Evaluation Report, to be generated once the bridges have been examined. The report will reflect a deep dive into the engineering and stability of the bridges, with an eye toward predicting when deterioration will force the Corps to start limiting the weight of vehicles traversing them, Martin said.

Under National Bridge Inspection Standards, he said the Bourne and Sagamore are in “fair” and “safe” condition, but they will require “extensive and costly repairs” between 2025 and 2030 to keep up their performances.

“That said, we understand that by today’s standards for highway and bridge design, both bridges are considered functionally obsolete — functional, but obsolete,” he said. “This means vehicle travel lanes are narrow, 10 feet, as compared with standard 12 feet lanes, with no medians, shoulders that are nonexistent or inadequate, and pedestrian and bicycle access which doesn’t have proper separation from moving traffic.”

Martin outlined the most dramatic possibility for the two spans over the Cape Cod Canal being replaced: new bridges sporting two lanes in either direction plus an “auxiliary” lane in each direction, for a total of six lanes. The other option for new bridges, Martin pointed out, was a four-lane design that met present federal standards. In either case, he said, the old bridges would remain in use while the new bridges were erected next to them.

If neither of the new bridge options pans out, major repairs to the bridges, which would be necessary if the public did not want weight limits imposed, would take about 3½ years to complete “and would be done in the off-season from the latter part of October through mid-May, as much as feasible,” he said. “These fixes would maintain bridge performance but would result in a number of traffic delays during the rehab process.”

Only a handful of people chose to comment at the end of the presentation. Commenters were told not to expect question to be answered, only logged along with the rest of their commentary and considered at a later time.

Dukes County Commissioner Leon Braithwaite thanked Martin for an “exhaustive and accurate” presentation. While he said he would reserve his comments until after the Army Corps had chosen an option, he did ask when the public will know whether it’s going to be “repair or replace.”

Martha’s Vineyard Commissioner Richard Toole apologized for the low audience turnout, and said things happen that way sometimes.

“You know I’m not a daily commuter by any stretch of the imagination,” he said, “but I like to know the bridges are safe … I just went through an exhaustive process here locally about replacing a town building. And we came to the conclusion that it was crazy to pour more money into this building. It was just a waste of time. This seems to be the same situation. So the question is whether you pour money into these bridges or you replace them. It’s clear to me that you should replace the bridges. The other question is, and this is a question we all deal with, do we in fact want more capacity? Do we want to make it easier for people to go back and forth?”

Toole went on to say he figured an evenly divided number of people would be for and against increased speed and volume on the bridges.

Edgartown resident Susan Brown told the Army Corps she had a number of concerns. “I am just very concerned about the bicycle and pedestrian access and the lanes, they absolutely have to be well defined and separate from the vehicular traffic,” she said. “Also the current bridges don’t have very good access.”

Artifacts from the bridges, including plaques on them, should be preserved should the bridges be taken down, she said.

“Also, is there any plan to make the bridges higher?” she asked. “You say the current height is 135-feet for current ships … Boats always get bigger. A Carnival ship might want to go through there someday, one never knows.”

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce director Nancy Gardella kept her commentary short.

“My only comment in this is to encourage you to move with one of the more modern alternatives that allow for pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well as wider lanes to make things safer,” she said. “As someone who does cross the bridges on a fairly frequent basis, I do feel as though they’re treacherous, and I’m driving a small car, so I can’t imagine what people are feeling when they’re trying to come and go from our beautiful area and they have those fleeting moments of high anxiety on the bridges. So I appreciate your consideration — delighted by the study — and hope you’ll take that into account.”