BOSTON — Massachusetts elected officials who for years have been seeking federal funding to help replace the aging bridges across the Cape Cod Canal got a major ally Thursday: President Joe Biden.
Biden’s fiscal year 2024 national budget proposal calls for directing $350 million toward the replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges, and the White House said that “initial” investment would represent part of “a commitment of $600 million.”
There’s no guarantee that money for the Cape bridges will survive in the final federal budget, and Biden’s spending bill still faces a long road to passage through a Republican-controlled U.S. House. The executive branch that Biden oversees has so far rejected a pair of grant bids for the bridge replacements.
Inflation has driven up the project’s price tag, and officials said last year they now expect replacing both bridges to cost as much as nearly $4 billion. The most recent federal ratings deemed the Bourne Bridge “structurally deficient” and the Sagamore Bridge in “fair” condition.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Bill Keating praised the announcement Thursday, with Markey saying the project “is entering a promising new phase.”
“The Bourne and Sagamore Bridges are a critical lifeline for the Cape and Islands -- that’s the message my colleagues and I have delivered to the White House and President Biden personally, and today’s investment of $350 million towards the project clearly demonstrates that the White House understands this critical issue and is ready to make a down payment on replacing these federal assets,” Keating said in a statement. “We are still in the early stages of this project, but I have been clear from the start that these bridges will be funded. The Cape Cod Canal bridges will be replaced, and I look forward to continuing to partner with the federal delegation and our federal, state, and local partners to ensure we continue moving forward.”
The White House highlighted the proposed investment in the Cape bridges in a 184-page summary of Biden’s federal budget bill, explicitly mentioning the project in a section about funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which currently owns both spans.
Biden’s budget also features language allowing the Corps to steer federal funding to Massachusetts, “which is better suited to design and construct the replacement bridges.”
“The Budget proposes authorizing the Corps to transfer ownership of these bridges to the Commonwealth, which would be responsible for their future operation and maintenance,” the White House wrote in its budget document.
In 2020, the Corps and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation signed a memorandum of understanding that called for the Corps to retain ownership and management of the bridges during construction and demolition, then transfer ownership of the new bridges to MassDOT.
At the time, the Baker administration said the federal government would cover the costs of replacing the bridges while acknowledging there was no formal obligation for Washington to do so.
Gov. Maura Healey discussed the bridges with the congressional delegation and Biden administration during her February visit to the nation’s capital.
“The Cape Cod Canal Bridges Project is critical for Massachusetts’ communities and economy,” Healey said in a statement Thursday. “I’m grateful to the Biden Administration for committing this $350 million down payment on the project, as well as Senators Warren and Markey and Congressman Keating for their leadership and partnership to secure this crucial investment. Our administration remains committed to working closely with our local, state and federal partners to see this through.”
Both bridges opened to drivers in 1935 and are responsible for transporting hundreds of thousands of people onto and off of Cape Cod every year. The Corps has deemed them “functionally obsolete” for years.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.
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