BOSTON (SHNS) – Back from a string of activity in the nation’s capital that featured a pair of events with President Joe Biden, Gov. Maura Healey said Monday that the aging Cape Cod bridges and the prospect of a western Massachusetts passenger rail extension featured as recurring topics during her visit.
Healey ping-ponged between Massachusetts and Washington D.C. last week for Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday and then for a combination of National Governors Association events between Thursday and Saturday.
The governor told reporters on Monday she spoke with “several people” about the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, including federal lawmakers and Biden administration officials. Replacing those spans — which opened to motorists in 1935 — has loomed as a top priority for years, though the project’s future is uncertain amid unanswered funding questions.
“I think they understand the importance of these projects and the importance of funding it, and really, this is going to be about working together at the state and federal level to get this done,” Healey said.
The federal government in January rejected a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers grant application seeking $1.88 billion in funds toward replacing the two bridges, just a few months after Washington turned down another application for more than $1 billion.
Estimates for the project’s price tag have soared. In 2019, officials projected it would cost roughly $1.5 billion to remove and replace both bridges, but in May, then-Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said the cost now appeared to be “close to $3 billion to close to $4 billion.”
“We’ve got to do the work right now in terms of a new [grant] application. That process hasn’t started yet, but our work on it has started,” Healey said. “It’s making sure that we demonstrate to the federal government that we have the bandwidth, the workforce capacity. Funding, yes, is important because the state needs to put its own amount of funding up, but you know, the conversations that we had — they were a good start, and this is a top priority for me.”
The Baker administration struck an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July 2020 that calls for the federal agency to retain ownership and management of the bridges during construction and demolition, then transfer ownership of the new spans to the state. At the time, Baker administration officials said publicly that the federal government would cover the costs of the project, even as a MassDOT spokesperson simultaneously acknowledged the agreement did not formally bind any federal agencies to do so.
Another transportation topic that Healey said she discussed in Washington, D.C. is a long-proposed East-West Rail project extending passenger train service to western Massachusetts. She said she had a “good meeting” with the Bay State’s congressional delegation, who are “supportive” of the idea.
“My team is already spending time with the Department of Transportation thinking through what that looks like, and it’s something that I’ve been committed to from the time I ran for this position,” Healey said. “We’re working very hard on this, and I know it’s going to require and involve support of our federal delegation and the [Biden] administration on this, but I’m confident and hopeful that we can work together to see that through.”
The governor’s office said Healey met with the Bay State’s congressional delegation at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to discuss the Cape bridges, the Massachusetts economy, child care, the CHIPS and Science Act, behavioral health, veterans’ supports and federal funding opportunities.
On Friday, according to Healey’s office, the governor and her transportation secretary, Gina Fiandaca, met with Biden advisor and infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu. She also attended a White House business session with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and members of Biden’s Cabinet, had lunch with French Ambassador Philippe Etienne, and then held meetings with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Healey attended a Saturday morning breakfast with New England governors to discuss regional energy issues, participated in NGA Winter Meeting events, and then spent an evening at the White House with the president, First Lady Jill Biden, and Healey’s partner, Joanna Lydgate.
In a Monday morning interview on Boston 25 News, Healey, appearing live from her State House office, said governors from both parties are “going to find ways to work together.”
“Many of us had a discussion about energy needs in our states, in our regions, and how we can work together to grow support for funding for infrastructure, for transmission, for our grid,” Healey said. “Many of us are facing challenges around housing, around workforce, so how do we work together to find common solutions?”
It’s been about seven weeks since Healey, then still governor-elect, announced she retained search firm Krauthamer & Associates to help find candidates to become general manager at the MBTA, and about two and a half weeks since she said that process would move on a timeline of “weeks, not months.”
“We’re close,” Healey told Boston 25 about the ongoing GM search. “I mean, we promised folks that we would move through with a very aggressive process and that we would work as quickly as possible. I said this would be weeks, not months. We’re in fact on course to do just that, and so we hope to have a decision and an announcement soon.”
(Sam Drysdale contributed reporting.)