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Studying the economic impacts of long-term bridge closures

Built in 1935, the Bourne and Sagamore bridges span the Cape Cod Canal and connect residents, businesses, and visitors on the Cape and Islands to the mainland. The bridges are essential for general transportation, freight, and tourism, and, in an emergency, are critical routes for evacuation.

The Cape Cod Commission has contracted with consultant Eastern Research Group, Inc (ERG) to conduct an economic analysis to better understand the impact a long-term bridge shutdown would have on the region’s economy.

Existing economic analyses don’t tell the full story. They are generally focused on travel time costs versus overall economic impacts, short-term impacts rather than potential long-term impacts, and include anecdotal rather than of quantitative information.

“We are asking the federal government for billions of dollars,” said Commission Deputy Director Steven Tupper. “Making the case on the national scale is where this becomes really important. We will be competing against big national bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge, and we need them to understand that there is a level of importance here to our region, and being able to put the data behind it is paramount to what we are thinking about here.”

The bridges are the only connection to and from Cape Cod for vehicular traffic, supporting 229,000 year-round residents, 8,600 businesses, 50,000 daily commuters, and 5 million annual visitors. In addition, an average of 6,600 trucks cross the bridges daily, along with 122 daily school buses.

Issues with the bridges impact emergency services, health care access, transportation of goods and services, commute times, school access, retail tourism, disaster management, recreation access, air quality, pedestrian access, safety, and overall perceptions of the region.

The nearly 90-year-old bridges are considered functionally obsolete. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) rates the Bourne Bridge in poor condition and the Sagamore Bridge in fair condition.

Maintenance was completed on the Sagamore Bridge in Spring 2023 and on the Bourne Bridge in Fall 2023. The 53-day Sagamore project resulted in a major disruption to commuting flow, causing an estimated $10 million in direct travel time delay costs. The 46-day Bourne project caused significant and, at times, unpredictable disruption to regional travel, with an estimated $4 million in direct travel time delay costs.

While those numbers are staggering, a long-term closure could result in billions of dollars of travel time delay costs.

ERG's analysis will look at a range of information, including the impact on the cost of goods and services on the Cape and Islands, the impact on local businesses, on visitation to the region, to the real estate market, potential loss of tax revenue, and other impacts such as access to medical care, school transportation, emergency response and emergency supplies.

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