Baltimore bridge catastrophe complicates Cape projects

It is good that Gov. Maura Healey, in the wake of the deadly bridge collapse in Baltimore, assured Massachusetts residents that the bridges in the Commonwealth are inspected and safe.

At the same time, though, reverberations from the deadly disaster at the important Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore will soon be felt in Massachusetts, no matter what Healey does.

You can bet, now that President Joe Biden has promised that the federal government will pay untold millions, or “the entire cost,” of a new Baltimore bridge, there will not be much, if any, money left over for two new Cape Cod bridges.

“We are going to stay with you as long as it takes,” Biden said to Baltimore politicians and residents following the collapse, which is what he once said to the Israelis.

While there is hardly any comparison to the economic importance of the two bridge sites, the Cape Cod bridges are vital to the economy of the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

But the port of Baltimore, now blocked by the collapsed bridge, leads the nation in automobile and truck imports, as well as being the main port for the export of coal, among other things.

The two Cape Cod bridges, the Sagamore and the Bourne, which are now almost 90 years old, are still standing, of course, but were declared “functionally obsolete” years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which built, owns and maintains them.

It is estimated that it will cost some $4.2 billion to replace both. When and if they are replaced with two new bridges, they will be turned over to the state.

However, paying for the demolition and construction of two new bridges has been a bone of contention between the state and the federal government.

And matters will only get worse for Healey and Massachusetts now that Biden and political leaders—rightly so– deal with the Baltimore situation first.

Under a proposed pending deal—before the Baltimore bridge collapsed—the Healey administration agreed with federal officials on a plan to build the new $2.1 billion Sagamore Bridge first and the Bourne later.

Under the agreement the state will come up with $700 million and the Army Corps of Engineers with $600 million for a total of $1.3 billion. There was no mention of where the rest of the money would come from.

There is also the possibility that Biden will be defeated by Donlad Trump in November, a man Healey sued 100 times when he was president, and she was attorney general. She is now a campaign surrogate for Biden and attacks Trump regularly.

Unless Healey changes strategy the outlook for two new Cape Cod bridges is dismal.

What she could consider is building the new bridges the way the state built the Massachusetts Turnpike, its Boston extension and the Callahan Tunnel in the fifties and sixties.

Back then the state created the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and named William F. Callahan, a crusty but powerful bureaucrat who knew something about building roads.

Callahan, who at times seemed to have more power than the governor and Legislature combined, cut through opposition to the turnpike project as well as government red tape.

In the end he got the project done and named the Callahan Tunnel after his son U.S. Army Lt. William F. Callahan Jr. who was killed in Italy during the closing days of World War II.

But the key to the success of the project was that it was started and finished without raising taxes, using state cash or begging for federal funding.

The project was financed through the issuing of bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the Commonwealth as well as the imposing of tolls on drivers who use the turnpike and tunnel.

Healey should consider using the same method to build and pay for the bridges. If it worked for the Massachusetts Turnpike and it could work for the bridges.

Peter Lucas is a veteran political reporter. Email him at:

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the collapse of Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the collapse of Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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