The Creation of The Bourne, Sagamore and Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridges That Exist Today


The completed Bourne Bridge and Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge as they exist today

The original Cape Cod Canal was spanned by three bridges. The Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge was a draw style bascule bridge with openings over the water of only 140 feet. A subcontractor for Pennsylvania Steel Company began work on the railroad bridge in May 1910, and the work was completed by September that year. The structure was a Strauss trunnion bascule bridge that had a single span of 160 feet in length. The bridge was able to pivot and a double track ran across it. Because of the anticipated heavy loads, the bridge itself had an immense weight. Only two, 65-horsepower electric motors were needed to open and close the bridge in only one minute. This efficiency was possible because of the well balanced span, and necessary because of the low twelve-foot clearance.

In August 1910 work officially began on the original Bourne Bridge. Since the bridge was intended for highway use with a single track for trolleys, it would have a lighter load to handle. By May 1911 the bridge was completed, spanning 729 feet, however the draw remained only 160 feet. The surface of the Bourne Bridge was 30 feet wide, and the structure was considered a Scherzer double-leaf rolling lift bridge. It utilized the same three sources of power as the railroad bridge. When the center spans were closed, the bridge was on average, 41 feet above sea level. This allowed only small crafts to slide underneath without opening the draw.


The original Bourne Bridge as it stood in 1911

The original Sagamore Bridge began construction as a temporary wooden drawbridge with a small draw span. Work begun in spring of 1912 and was completed that winter.  
Nevertheless, the narrow passages underneath the three bridges, combined with the fast current and winding turns made boaters weary of using the waterway. However, in order to avoid the somewhat dangerous Canal, one would have had to add 165 miles to their trip by going around the tip of the Cape; not to mention many ships had already sunk going around the Cape. Also, automobile traffic going to and from the cape was considerable since the drawbridges could only be crossed when there was no boating traffic.

On March 31, 1928, Congress directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement as series of improvements, including the replacement of the three bridges. The Corps selected two land areas that were naturally elevated in order to accommodate large sea going vessels. The vertical clearance was 135 feet, and a horizontal clearance of 480 feet. The existing railroad tracks made it impractical to relocate the railroad bridge. The Corps selected a vertical lift bridge design allowing for the same clearance as the highway bridges.

Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge construction September 26, 1934

The Public Works Administration, the group responsible for managing Emergency Relief funds during the Great Depression, authorized the construction of the three bridges on September 6, 1933.  The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 provided 4.6 million dollars in federal funding. In accordance with PWA regulations, work was distributed widely and employed about 700 workers.

April 18, 1934 Pay Day for the Bridge Workers

The Sagamore and Bourne highway bridges that exist today were created simultaneously as work began in December 1933. The Sagamore Bridge was constructed about two and one half miles from the eastern end of the Canal. The Bourne Bridge was constructed about one mile from the western end of the Canal. The bridges have a horizontal span of 616 feet and a vertical clearance of 135 feet above water. They are designed for four lane highway traffic as the roadway width remains 40 feet. The total cost 3.4 million dollars.

Sagamore Bridge construction 1934

The Railroad Bridge was started a few weeks after the highway bridges. The bridge weighs 2,050 tons and carries a single rail road track. It was a vertical lift bridge, with the longest span in the world, moved up and down like an elevator only to permit a train to pass. The total coast was approximately 1.8 million dollars. December 27, 1935 the first train crossed the new bridge.

photo - Railroad Bridge

The Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge as it exists today

On June 22, 1935 dedication ceremonies were held for the bridges. More than 8,000 people participated in a parade along the 7.5 mile route across both highway bridges, and about 150,000 people were reported to have viewed the parade.

Up until 1980, only minor repair work had been done on the bridges. In 1980, however, major repairs on the two highway bridges were completed. The decks were replaced and repaved, both bridges were repainted and suicide proof fences were installed. The renovations cost 12 million on the Bourne Bridge and 8 million on the Sagamore.

The Bourne and Railroad Bridge 2008

Each year, the bridges linking Cape Cod and the mainland of Massachusetts are crossed by more than 35 million vehicles. By 1960, however, the number of trains that crossed the rail road bridge sufficiently lessened and as a result, trash trains, almost exclusively, utilize the bridge.


Sources- (4), (5), (7)