March 17, 2023

ICYMI: At Hearing, Warren Highlights Significance of Cape Cod Bridges Funding

“I’m glad that President Biden’s budget… (has) a significant $350 million down payment, toward a $600 million commitment to replace the Cape Cod Bridges and protect both the local economy out on the Cape and public safety. Our bridges should not be weak links in our transportation systems.”

Hearing Exchange (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. – At a  hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) highlighted her push to secure funding for the Cape Cod Canal Bridges Project. Her exchange follows the announcement of the President’s Budget which includes $350 million, toward a commitment of $600 million, for the project to replace the aging Bourne and Sagamore Bridges on Cape Cod.

During the hearing, Senator Warren exchanged questions with the CEO and General Manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, India Birdsong Terry, who oversaw the closure of Cleveland’s Waterfront Line bridge in 2021 due to stress fractures and stability issues that were initially discovered in 2018.

Transcript: Local Views on Public Transportation, Transit Infrastructure and Operations, and Federal Transit Programs
U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee 
Thursday, March 16, 2023 

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

So I’m very glad that we’re talking about transit today. I want to talk about bridges. Because bridges are a key part of transit and our broader transportation system. However, according to the Federal Highway Administration, nearly 69,000 highway bridges – that’s more than one out of every ten highway bridges in the whole country – are currently classified as structurally deficient.

In Massachusetts, the Cape Cod Bridges have needed repair for years and years and years. These bridges which were built in 1935, are the only link between Cape Cod and the mainland. There’s no drive around here, they are the only link. And more than 35 million vehicles cross them each year. They serve as essential routes for general transportation, for tourism, and for evacuation in case of  emergencies.

The Bridges are vital assets for the Cape Cod economy, but they are in desperate need of replacement. While the average age of an American bridge across the country is 42 years, the Cape Cod Bridges are 90 years old.

Ms. Terry, as the head of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, you presided over the shutdown of your Waterfront light rail line – beginning back in 2020 and I understand it, still ongoing – due to safety concerns related to a bridge on the route, namely stress fractures and stability issues. I want to ask you, just to say a word, what was the impact on Cleveland citizens and the local economy of having to shut down transit routes because of bridge maintenance issues? 

India Birdsong Terry, Chief Executive Officer And General Manager, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority: So thank you for your question. You’re absolutely correct. We’ve been working on our Waterfront Line bridge for quite some time now. We expect it to open up later in the year. We have got about a year to go. That particular bridge was not as old as the ones you mentioned, however, it was built in 1996. And that being said is even more disconcerting because it’s a younger bridge with particular safety issues that we found actually during an inspection, which allowed us to be able to get ahead of some of the catastrophe that could have occurred.

Senator Warren: Right. But you shut it down?

Ms. Terry: We did. 

Senator Warren: Tell me a little about the impact on the citizens of Cleveland.

Ms. Terry: Absolutely. So that bridge serves as a connection to a lot of our entertainment districts, our Cleveland Browns if you’re a football fan, and also to some of our science centers downtown as well as the Flats neighborhood, which has a huge economic driver for residential as well as entertainment. It was definitely an outcry from the community to say, are you sure you have to do this because it really kind of cuts away the mobility when we have major events. We have to supplant some of that service with busing. And when you do that, it's definitely a little slower and doesn't have the same capacity, and it also is a stress on our operation.

Senator Warren: Okay, so waiting until you have to shut a bridge down is a serious problem for a city like Cleveland?

Ms. Terry: Yes.

Senator Warren: And I’m going to guess, out on the Cape as well. You know, I know that the Cleveland Transit Authority received federal funding to help improve the bridge infrastructure. Ms. Terry, how important was that federal investment to making your bridges safer and supporting your local economy?

Ms. Terry: So the passage of the IIJA was imperative for us. To be able to get that work done, we could not do a lot of the remediation on our own. We had to be able to bring external crews, so that was imperative. And then, also, it allowed us to be able to keep the rest of our projects on time so that we didn't have to kind of trade one project for another. And we also were able to use some of our 30% formula funding to be able to contribute to that project.

Senator Warren: Right. And let me ask one last question here. Was this investment something that Cleveland could have done on its own, using state and local funds?

Ms. Terry: No, we could have not.

Senator Warren: Okay, that’s the key point here. We need federal funds. You know, the Biden administration has made historic investments in our infrastructure, including through the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act. The Cape Cod bridges have yet to receive funding from the Infrastructure Bill, in part because the previous Governor in Massachusetts failed to prioritize this issue and put together a competitive application. 

But I’m not going to stop fighting for federal funds for these critical assets.

That’s why I’m glad that President Biden’s budget, which was released last week, there’s a significant $350 million down payment, toward a $600 million commitment to replace the Cape Cod Bridges and protect both the local economy out on the Cape and public safety.

Our bridges should not be weak links in our transportation systems. And I am committed to making sure that happens, both in Massachusetts and all around the country.

So, thank you very much and thank you for your work.