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This 2006 photo shows the Bourne Bridge (MA 28) over the Cape Cod Canal in Buzzards Bay. The Bourne Bridge has a 616-foot-main span over the canal like the Sagamore Bridge, but from abutment to abutment, the bridge is 976 feet longer than its identical twin two and one-half miles to the east. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

CROSSING THE CAPE COD CANAL: Conceived since the seventeenth century by Captain Miles Standish of the Plimoth Colony, the Cape Cod Canal was completed in 1914 with the help of financier August Belmont after four years of construction. However, the original Bourne Bridge was built in advance of the canal's opening by three years as the span had to be built before the canal was dug.

The original span spanned the canal about one-half mile west of the current bridge, and connected the two ends of Perry Avenue in Bourne and Buzzards Bay. (The northern abutment off Perry Avenue in Bourne is all that remains of the old span.) The main span comprised two 80-foot-long cantilever-bascule leaves that provided a 160-foot main span and 140 feet of horizontal clearance. However, the limitations posed by the narrow horizontal and vertical clearances - even with the lift spans in the up position - made navigating through the bridge challenging. In the closed position, the old Bourne Bridge proved even more of a navigation hazard as it was the site of frequent ship collisions.

Despite a toll of as much as $16 for vessels, August Belmont's canal quickly became a money loser. The canal could not accommodate ships with a depth of more than 15 feet, and its swift currents and narrow width further discouraged use by larger ships. By 1915, Belmont attempted to sell the Cape Cod Canal to the Federal government. The Federal Railroad Administration acquired the canal three years later toward the end of World War I after a German submarine fired on an American tugboat, the Perth Amboy, three miles off the coast of Nauset Beach, Cape Cod.

A NEW BOURNE BRIDGE FOR A WIDER CANAL: In 1928, Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to widen and deepen the Cape Cod Canal. The Corps also was charged with rebuilding the two highway bridges and one railroad bridge connecting Cape Cod with the U.S. mainland. On September 6, 1933, the Public Works Administration (PWA) authorized the financing and construction of the three bridges under emergency legislation signed by President Franklin Roosevelt. Work on the bridges began three months later.

Like the Sagamore Bridge, its twin two and one-half miles to the east, the Bourne Bridge was built as a steel-arch span providing 616 feet of clearance between piers and a 135-foot vertical clearance. This accommodation for larger ships - and particularly Naval vessels - was critical. The Corps also accommodated the growing vehicular traffic of the 1930's by providing four lanes, double the vehicular capacity of the original Bourne Bridge. Along with the elimination of the need for bridge openings, the new four-lane fixed span reduced travel times drastically over the old two-lane bascule span.

The main difference between the Bourne and Sagamore bridges is that the Bourne Bridge had a longer approach. It measures 2,384 feet from end to end, 976 feet longer than the Sagamore Bridge. The Bourne Bridge also has a four-foot-wide pedestrian walkway, something that was not built into the design of the Sagamore Bridge.

The Bourne and Sagamore bridges were dedicated and opened to traffic on June 22, 1935. The Bourne Bridge was awarded as the "most beautiful bridge built during 1934" from the American Institute of Steel Construction.

MAINTAINING THE SPAN: The Corps began a six-year project to rehabilitate the Bourne and Sagamore bridges in 1980. The $20 million project included deck replacement, replacing of hanger cables, repaving, repainting, and installation of 12-foot-high suicide fences.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the Bourne Bridge carries approximately 45,000 vehicles per day (AADT), a volume that often doubles on summer weekends. The bridge remains under the maintenance jurisdiction of the Corps.

DOUBLING BRIDGE CAPACITY? Between 1968 and 1977, the MassDPW developed studies for the "Southside Connector," a freeway that was to run from the southern end of the Bourne Bridge east along the south side of the Cape Cod Canal. Beginning at the Bourne rotary on MA 28, which was to be replaced by a grade-separated interchange, the Southside Connector was to extend seven miles east through the Massachusetts Military Reservation (the Camp Edwards / Otis Air National Guard Base complex) before terminating at US 6 (Mid-Cape Highway) near EXIT 2 (MA 130) in Sandwich. According to the study, the connector was to be given the MA 25 designation, and it was to be built with a new parallel span next to the Bourne Bridge.

The connector was shelved soon thereafter because of concerns that it would disturb the underground aquifer that supplies water for Cape Cod. However, more recent complaints of gridlock on both sides of the canal led officials to reconsider the Southside Connector, which would cost $200 million if it were to be built today. Once again, many local officials want the connector to be built in conjunction with a third Cape Cod highway bridge in order to relieve congestion, but are being rebuffed by environmentalists and anti-sprawl advocates who fear that the connector and bridge would add to that congestion.

This 2006 photo shows the southbound lanes of the Bourne Bridge (MA 28) approaching the main steel-arch span. Note the walkway along the southbound lanes of the bridge. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

A PARALLEL SPAN FOR THE BOURNE BRIDGE: A new three-lane bridge should be built parallel to the existing Bourne Bridge to relieve congestion. The existing bridge would be re-configured to accommodate three 12-foot-wide lanes. The twin span would be part of a new I-195 extension to Cape Cod via the proposed Southside Connector.

Type of bridge:
Construction started:
Opened to traffic:
Length of main span:
Total length of bridge and approaches:
Width of bridge:
Width of roadway:
Number of traffic lanes:
Clearance at center above mean high water:
Cost of original structure:

Steel arch
December 1, 1933
June 22, 1935
616 feet
2,384 feet
45 feet
40 feet
4 lanes
135 feet
$1,600,000

SOURCES: "Proposed Route 25 and Route 28: Final Environmental Impact and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1977); "Ideas Abound for Solving Cape Gridlock" by James Kinsella, The Standard-Times (10/29/2000); "Cape Cod Canal Bridges," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2002); Massachusetts Department of Transportation; Steve Alpert; Alexander Svirsky.

  • MA 28 and MA 25 shields by Barry L. Camp.
  • I-195 shield by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightpost photo by Steve Anderson.

BOURNE BRIDGE LINKS:

BOURNE BRIDGE CURRENT CONDITIONS

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