With Cape Cod bridges, no one brought home the bacon for Massachusetts

with cape cod bridges, no one brought home the bacon for massachusetts

Massachusetts’ bid for federal funding to replace the Sagamore Bridge was not included in $1.5 billion in federal grant money awarded under the “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” or “INFRA” program.

A key part of Ted Kennedy’s legacy was his commitment to “bringing home the bacon.” Kennedy, who died in 2009 after almost 47 years in the US Senate, secured billions in federal dollars for a range of Massachusetts projects, from construction projects and defense spending to funding for hospitals, small businesses, the environment, and the arts.

So who’s in charge of bringing home the bacon to Massachusetts these days?

Last month, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveled to Detroit to announce the awarding of $1.5 billion in federal grant money under the “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” or “INFRA” program: “Twenty-six communities around the country, including right here in Detroit, are getting good news,” he said. Massachusetts was not among them, as its bid for federal funding to replace the aging Bourne and Sagamore bridges did not make the cut.

Why not? Of course Massachusetts doesn’t automatically deserve money over any other state. Still, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, along with the rest of the congressional delegation, which includes Representative Richard Neal, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, put their weight behind the application. So did the Baker administration and the US Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the bridges. In a joint statement to the State House News Service, Warren, Markey, and Representative William Keating, who represents the Cape, all said they were “disappointed” in the outcome. Meanwhile, it has been left mostly to Keating to explain what happened, or rather, what didn’t happen with the bridge application.

In 2019, the Army Corps called them “functionally obsolete” and called for their replacement.

In a telephone interview, Keating said that “at the urging of Richie Neal, the entire Massachusetts delegation got behind the bridge replacement application.“ Keating said that Neal told the delegation, “‘Let’s prioritize, so we’re not competing against each other.’ Everyone agreed the bridges were number one.” Still, Keating insisted that not getting the money is no big deal. “It was just round one of one pot of money,” which targeted smaller projects costing in the range of tens of millions. The second round is for the National Infrastructure Project Assistance program, or MEGA grant, which is aimed at bigger projects in the billions. That pot of money, said Keating, is a better fit for the Cape Cod bridge application.

That may be true. But last January, when Markey, Warren, and Keating hosted a meeting with state officials and the Corps of Engineers to tout the enactment of the bipartisan infrastructure law, the mood was bullish. “This is our moment,” Markey, Warren, and Keating said in a statement at the time.

For sure, there was a lot of competition for the money. In Detroit, Buttigieg said the federal government got over $26 billion worth of applications for the $1.5 billion that was ultimately awarded in this round. Some bridge projects made the list of winners. For example, there’s $17 million to fix a bridge in Kentucky; $25 million to reconstruct eight bridges in Minnesota; $80 million to replace the existing Wisconsin River Bridge with two new bridge spans; and $82 million to rehabilitate the Newport Pell Bridge, which connects Newport and Jamestown.

The Bourne and Sagamore bridges date back to 1935. In 2020, the Army Corps agreed to “own, operate, and maintain the bridges” until they are replaced; then, ownership will be transferred to Massachusetts. In 2019, the cost of replacing the bridges was estimated at $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion. Estimates now range from $3 billion to $4 billion. In May, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation put out a press release saying it was seeking a total of $1.113 billion from INFRA and MEGA funding. So if federal dollars come through, they will only cover a portion of the cost.

Even before the bad news that these bridges would not get any of the initial infrastructure money, political and business leaders on the Cape had concerns. Peter Meier, chairman of the Bourne board of selectmen, told the Cape Cod Times, “Communication to date has not been the best. The bridges affect daily life in Bourne. Ultimately, we who live here are impacted the most.” Such complaints would be hard to imagine during Kennedy’s tenure. He had a personal connection to the Cape via the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. But beyond that, his Senate operation was famous for its constituent services.

At the same time, Kennedy had a national profile, and a wide-ranging policy agenda focused on health care, immigration, and civil rights, among other big issues. But he still knew how to bring home the bacon for Massachusetts.

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