Officials Whiff On First Bid For Cape Bridge Funds

Printed from:

By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

Public officials fell short in one of two bids to secure more than $1 billion in federal funding toward replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, a blow that left them “disappointed” as they wrangle with questions over how to pay for the critical infrastructure project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ application for Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, grant money failed when the U.S. Department of Transportation last week declined to include the bridge replacements on a list of 26 projects set to split funding.

Another grant application filed at the same time as the unsuccessful bid remains pending, so the failure does not close the door entirely on acquiring newly available federal grant dollars to replace a pair of bridges that predate World War II. But it still represents a setback as overseers stare down a price tag that could soar as high as almost $4 billion amid rampant inflation.

“I can say that we’re disappointed in the result but continue to look for other grant opportunities to further this project,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Bryan Purtell. “We will continue to work with MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to identify all opportunities.”

Purtell said the Army Corps, which owns the bridges and was the lead applicant for grant funding, “is not entertaining interviews on this topic.”

The state’s two U.S. senators and the congressman representing Cape Cod also described themselves as “disappointed” in the outcome.

“We commend the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for taking advantage of every available funding opportunity made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman William Keating said in a joint statement to State House News Service. “While we are disappointed that the project to replace the Bourne and Sagamore bridges was not selected for an Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant, we will continue to work alongside our colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, the Biden administration, and state authorities in Massachusetts to enhance coordination among the entities involved and ensure this project is funded to replace these critical lifelines to the Cape and Islands.”

Under an agreement reached in 2020, the Corps would retain ownership and management of the 87-year-old spans while are demolished and new bridges are built, then transfer ownership and operation to Massachusetts.

The Baker administration said at the time that the federal government will be responsible for the costs of construction and demolition while disclosing that the memorandum of understanding does not formally bind any federal agencies to paying for the project.

Officials projected in 2019 it would cost between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion to remove and replace both bridges. In May, state Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said the Army Corps now expects the price tag to range from “close to $3 billion to close to $4 billion.”

It’s not clear exactly how much money officials hoped to get toward replacing the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges, which serve the only roadway routes on and off Cape Cod for more than 260,000 residents and 5 million visitors every year, through the Infrastructure For Rebuilding America program.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials in May said the combined application for the Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grant and a MEGA grant (through what is known formally as National Infrastructure Project Assistance) sought $1.113 billion for the project. Purtell, the Army Corps spokesman, said he was not immediately able to enumerate the breakdown in grant funding sought between the two programs.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which in May published a press release with the $1.113 billion figure counting both grant applications, said the department “defers to the [Army Corps] for the breakdown.”

At the time officials submitted their proposal for grant dollars, Keating said he had “no anticipation whatsoever that the application will be rejected,” according to the Cape Cod Times.

The Biden administration announced Thursday, September 15 it would direct $1.5 billion in Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grants to 26 highway, multimodal freight, and rail projects across the country. Awards range in scale from $10 million for a highway expansion in Minnesota to $150 million for construction of a new toll road and port of entry at Otay Mesa in California.

It was one round of funding in a program the administration projects will provide about $8 billion over a five-year period.

The federal government expects to award MEGA grants (through National Infrastructure Project Assistance) in the coming months, and Tesler said he believes that program is the “best fit” for the project.

“We are hopeful that that will be more positive than the INFRA grant, which we did apply for, but we understood that may not be the best avenue for this,” Tesler told the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s board of directors.

Tesler told the board his team would work with the Army Corps and the state’s congressional delegation to “press our case” for the grant application that remains pending.

“These competitive grants are vital to the long-term needs for those federal assets to get federal funding, so we are working incredibly closely with the Corps,” Tesler said. “But these are federally owned bridges and we feel strongly that these competitive grants, hopefully the [MEGA] grant program, is a successful place for us to begin getting federal funding for the federally owned bridges.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation declined to make Tesler or another official available for an interview Wednesday, September 21.

State House News Service spoke briefly with Tesler at the Massachusetts State House later in the day, where he did not offer much information and suggested contacting the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s press office.

“We would have to check the application. There are other programs,” Tesler said when asked how much funding applicants unsuccessfully sought in the Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grant specifically. “We should check and get that offline. I don’t have that in front of me.”

Pressed on whether the Army Corps and Massachusetts would apply again for any future round of Infrastructure For Rebuilding America grants, Tesler said, “You should check in with our office, because again, I don’t have that.”

The Cape bridges will not be the only Massachusetts mega-project whose outlook is tied up in the pending MEGA grant program. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the City of Boston also jointly applied for $1.19 billion through the same program to put toward the Allston Multimodal Project, which seeks to replace the aging Interstate 90 highway viaduct near Boston University by aligning rail tracks, two highways, and a pedestrian boardwalk side by side at roughly the same elevation next to the Charles River.

Officials estimate that the once-in-a-generation project will cost nearly $2 billion and rely in large part on federal funding.

The infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed this year made about $110 billion in competitive grants available for states, territories, and other entities.


New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.