Financing a bridge to M.V.


To the Editor:

My previous letter, “A bridge to Martha’s Vineyard?” (MV Times, April 20), cited the benefits to fighting climate change, improving the Island and Cape Cod traffic, commerce, trash management, and energy infrastructure. This letter addresses financing options. 


Federal grant option

The Rebuilding America Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE Discretionary Grant program, provides for DOT to invest in transportation projects. Grants are made on the economic merits of each proposal. The DOT and a qualified bridge engineering firm would be needed to prepare a conceptual design, a technical review, environmental impact, and economic merits in a grant proposal.


Toll bridge option

To have a tolling plan, federal funding would not be sought. As the bridge would offset the cost of ferry service, the existing ferry service revenue provides a basis for estimating the tolls. An internet posting indicates that the SSA revenue for 2019 was more than $119 million. It is likely that the revenue from the Martha’s Vineyard business is at least half the total revenue, so that a toll that equates to about the same as the ferry fees could be adequate.


Bridge parameters

The shortest bridge would be about 3.5 miles from Woods Hole to M.V., but this may not be the best choice. Consideration of the existing infrastructure might lead to one or more alternative locations on the Cape and M.V. sides, even though the bridge would be longer. A brief review of a NOAA water depth chart of the Vineyard Sound east of Woods Hole reveals several sizable shoals where the water is less than 33 feet deep; that has to be evaluated as to the impact on the bridge construction costs. A realistic cost estimate would require a DOT and a bridge engineering feasibility study. A quick estimate was made for a five-mile bridge, based on “Assessment of New Construction Market Pricing for Steel and Concrete Bridges,” May 2020, by HDR Engineering. Costs were studied from 789 bridge projects, from 12 state DOTs, that were awarded between 2014 and 2019. All costs are in 2019 dollars, adjusted via a cost escalation model. Based on the authors interpretation of the assessment, the estimated bridge cost would be about $500 million. This cost estimate did not include added highway costs at both ends, or a required elevation to allow commercial marine traffic to pass under. 

A bridge will be feared by those with gephyrophobia, a fear of driving over bridges; more reason to have a visually attractive design as well as a safe one. For example, a bridge with a gentle upward slope and a cable-stayed central span would be an attraction unto itself.


Philip Levine