My bet is that everyone who has had to travel across the Sagamore Bridge in recent weeks has a horror story (or two, or four) to share. Having to face that traffic more days than not, struggling to get to the State House (and carpooling most days), I’ll say what we all feel: It’s been a nightmare.
This year’s work will be finished within the next week or so, but there’s another contract for another job next spring. And so we simply must learn from this year’s experience, and do a better job of minimizing delays, reducing economic impact, and avoiding frayed tempers when the bridges need work yet again.
The entire Cape and Islands delegation has come together to address the congestion and these delays. The canal bridges are our region’s crucial, essential infrastructure, our tethers to the mainland; managing them well is our most important transportation challenge. Multiple meetings with everyone from the Mass Department of Transportation to the US Army Corps of Engineers to the Regional Transportation Authority to the Cape Cod Commission to the regional traffic task force have made that clear.
To avoid another spring of traffic discontent, here’s what needs to happen:
First, gather better data. Monitoring volume and flow should become a daily, hourly constant, year-round, whether or not there is repair work underway. Data on volume and delays should be gathered as quickly and with as much specificity as possible. This information should be used to understand what happens at a granular level, creating a baseline to assess impacts. This data, perhaps in the form of a bar chart showing minutes of delay at specific hours of the day and night, should also be made available as a tool to help people assess plans, make smart decisions, and reduce congestion.
Second, smart up the contract. The next project should be bid with the understanding that low cost is one of two key goals. The other is minimizing impact on all of us, from public safety vehicles to business deliveries to families trying to get together on Mother’s Day. We should insist on at least two bids – lowest cost and least impact. We should be asking questions like, If the number of workers were doubled on any project, would the time cut in half? If we were to double employees yet again, could we accomplish a 10-week project in five weeks? We have a responsibility to consider such options.
Third, translate what we know into specifics. Based on good data and a solid contract, clear strategies to reduce and eliminate traffic jams must be implemented. This may include more flexibility for closures and openings, heavier doses of night and off-peak work, removing work vehicles when no one’s working, regulating traffic entering from exit 1 on the Cape Cod side of the Sagamore, and other tactics.
Fourth, improve communication. We should make a concerted effort to keep the public informed, using all forms of outreach. The state’s 5-1-1 phone number to check on delay doesn’t always work, doesn’t offer alternatives, and isn’t always accurate; just last week, 5-1-1 informed me that the drive-time from the Orleans rotary to the bridge was 33 minutes total; it took almost an hour to crawl just the last mile or so to the canal. Cameras that would offer real-time pictures of congestion have not been functioning, and other creative applications and outreach are not being implemented. Doing this allows people to make informed decisions, stay put or find alternative routes, alleviating tie-ups by lessening volume at the worst times.
Fifth, coordinate all parties. The Army Corps, the State Department of Transportation, the Cape Cod Commission, and the Regional Transportation Authority must work in tandem, period.
For everyone’s sake, we need to get this right. We need to manage the region’s most important infrastructure and lifeline well, rebuild confidence in our ability to do that, and get real about the real impact.