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Safety on the Cape

I wrote recently in the Boston Globe about the removal of the traffic rotary in front of the Sagamore Bridge leading to Cape Cod and argued that the hoped-for reductions in traffic were likely to be minimal. Here’s an excerpt from an email I received from Thomas Cahir that reinforces my view on the traffic problem but points out something important I should have mentioned:

I read with interest your op/ed piece relative to the elimination of the Sagamore Rotary. I have lived in the Town of Bourne on Cape Cod for fifty years. I also served in the Massachusetts Legislature representing four upper Cape communities for fourteen years. During my entire tenure in the Massachusetts House, I served on the Joint Transportation Committee — six years as Vice-Chairman and two as Chairman.

As you may know, Sagamore is a village within my home town of Bourne.  Therefore, the Rotary is an issue very close to my heart.  I have stood on that Rotary during hundreds of different weekends throughout the years in an effort to get a better understanding of related issues and concerns. I sponsored the legislation authorizing the funding for the planning, design and construction of the recently completed project. I wanted to tell you all of this to let you know that over the course of the last fifteen years, I have heard every conceivable suggestion, plan, idea, etc. as to how to fix the most significant traffic hazard in Southeastern Massachusetts.

As a co-sponsor of the legislation creating the Cape Cod Commission (a regional land use planning agency) I strongly consider the Cape’s quality of life in every public decision that I make. Cape Cod is indeed a very special place, and we all must do whatever we can to protect and preserve it.  The issues you raise are valid. Traffic congestion, in my opinion, has become the #1 issue of concern to the Barnstable County citizenry. I have long promoted efforts to improve and expand mobility options to the Cape.

However, my main purpose in responding to your thoughts is a particular comment that you made. You mention that "one possibility is that the new bottleneck will be just as bad as the Sagamore Rotary. In that case, the project accomplishes nothing.” For many years, certain folks who are justifiably concerned about the inordinate growth we have recently experienced on the Cape, believed that the sole purpose for eliminating the Rotary was to make it easier for people to get on and off Cape Cod.

Of course with the elimination of an obsolete, seventy year old traffic configuration intended to accommodate 30% of the traffic volumes that it now must handle, lengthy present day queuing will be reduced. However, it is important to remember that there remain only four ten foot lanes of highway (Bourne & Sagamore Bridges) that have to accommodate every vehicle that comes onto or leaves the Cape.

In addition, when I have been asked over the years to identify the benefits that will be realized upon completion of the project, I have been consistent in my opinion that ease of getting on and off Cape Cod is fourth or fifth on the list. Clearly, the main benefit  is public safety. The Sagamore Rotary has been the leading traffic accident intersection in Barnstable County for many years. With its elimination, the area will become much safer, which is not insignificant. Another major benefit is that the new intersection will allow the residents of Sagamore Beach to safely access other parts of our town. For years, the 4000 plus residents have been extraordinarily inconvenienced when trying to get out of their village. Enhanced access to area businesses and air quality improvement are other benefits worthy of note.