Local officials from Cape Cod are spearheading a new effort to address the chronic problem of traffic congestion on the Bourne and Sagamore bridges. Marie Oliva, CEO of the Canal Area Chamber of Commerce, and Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, say it’s time to move forward with plans to alleviate the severe traffic problems that are created when repair work is done on the 80-year-old bridges that cross the Cape Cod Canal.

Traffic congestion has always been a problem during the summer tourist season to and from Cape Cod, but now there are traffic jams in the off season as well, especially when repairs must be made. That’s been the case on the Sagamore Bridge since early April when travel was limited to just one lane in each direction. Immediately, traffic jams stretching three to four miles developed, especially for those heading off the Cape. It was taking some motorists up to two hours to get over the bridge, prompting angry calls to the local chambers of commerce.

The Sagamore repair work is scheduled to continue right up until Memorial Day weekend. Then, after Labor Day, work will start on the Bourne bridge in what Marie Oliva calls “a double whammy.”

But the maintenance is required almost every year now, and local officials want a long-term solution. Finally, after years of study, Mass DOT officials unveiled a plan last December that will help alleviate the chronic congestion. But it will be expensive.

The plan proposes two new bridges to replace the Sagamore and Bourne bridges and redesigning the approaches to the bridges. The existing bridges would eventually be torn down, and the new bridges would be wider and able to accommodate repair work in the future without reducing the number of lanes, which is what causes the severe congestion now.  

All agree the new bridges would help, but the cost is daunting. Three years ago, one bridge was estimated to cost $358 million. Along with a second bridge and the reconstruction of intersections adjacent to the bridges, the total cost of the project could easily top $1 billion.

To raise that kind of money, Wendy Northcross says a public-private partnership should be pursued — and that means putting tolls on the bridges. But the once-controversial topic of tolls is gaining more acceptance. The Cape Chamber’s CEO says at recent meetings people agree with new tolls, if the revenue is put toward new bridges. And with the new electronic tolling technology using transponders, Northcross says locals could travel the bridges for free or reduced rates, while tourists would pay full freight.

There has been some concern that tolls would deter tourists, but Northcross doesn’t believe it. “They already pay $69 to park at Disney World, and that doesn’t keep them from visiting Disney World,” she said.

But the time to act is now, says Northcross. To that end, she and Oliva have organized what they call the “Coalition for the Fix." They want local officials, business owners, second home owners and residents to join them in pushing state officials to move forward with the plan since it will take several years to design and build the new bridges.

They’re also hoping some of those frustrated motorists stuck in the traffic jams will join them in seeking a long-term solution to a chronic problem that’s getting worse.