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Cape Flyover Gets Mixed Marks

The Sagamore flyover is about to end its first tourist season with one last big test Monday.

The long-awaited $59-million gateway to Cape Cod replaced the Sagamore Rotary, notorious for its traffic backups. On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Chatham, it evokes mixed reactions.

SIGHTSEER: I have had great experience with it. I love it. I think it's great we don't have the rotary anymore.

SIGHTSEER: My name is Frank Hallis. We live in South Yarmouth. Did the flyover solve problems? I don't think it did.

SIGHTSEER: Ed Lee. I live in Brewster. It's better than it was, but they could've done it better.

The flyover was meant to reduce wait times for people going to the Cape. It has done that, but the waits to get off Cape Cod during peak times are as long as ever.

WBUR's Fred Thys finds out why.

FRED THYS: For years, as the state representative from Bourne, Tom Cahir tried to get state officials to replace the Sagamore rotary. Finally, he and others persuaded then- Governor Mitt Romney that a flyover would be a good idea. Cahir is now deputy secretary at the Executive Office of Transportation.

TOM CAHIR: Getting onto Cape Cod is much safer, much easier, much more convenient, and the backups are not in any way in comparison to some of the backups that have occurred in years past.

THYS: Cahir is an expert on the flyover, not just because he's worked so many years to get it built, but because he commutes over it. He works in Boston, and he still lives in Bourne. He no longer sees the six-mile-or-more backups that used to stop traffic at the Sagamore Rotary.

CAHIR: In the last three to five Fridays, I've made it a point to go home around 6:30, and be in that traffic at 6:15, 6:30, and on a couple of occasions, the backup southbound has been about a mile, or close to a mile. It didn't exceed a mile, and that's really a good thing, but the key point to that is the traffic was almost moving, unlike the past.

Last year, when Romney was present at the opening of the project, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Transportation said the flyover would reduce summer travel times to and from the Cape by 30 minutes. But if the flyover has alleviated traffic to the Cape, it hasn't done anything to help traffic get off the Cape at peak hours. Bob Mumford, the transportation program manager at the Cape Cod Commission, took us on a tour on a weekday morning recently to show us what the main problem is: It's the drivers on connecting Route 6A.

BOB MUMFORD: When Route 6 is backed up, they try to use 6A in order to bypass the Route 6 traffic.

THYS: Those drivers then try to get back onto Route 6 just before the Sagamore Bridge, at Exit 1, the Christmas Tree Shop exit.

MUMFORD: And here you can see this link to the Sagamore Bridge is two lanes, and then the way it's striped, it does go down to a single lane, but it doesn't always operate that way.

THYS: Instead of merging down to one lane, the drivers who try to take a shortcut by sneaking around on Route 6A cause the big traffic jams getting off the Cape by trying to get back onto Route 6 at Exit 1 in two lanes.

MUMFORD: You can see right here, there's already some sort of problem with the merge. This isn't even a peak time. You can see people have some difficulty. You can see that truck ahead of us that has its left wheels into the other lane. That's reducing the bridge right now to a single lane for people going off Cape.

THYS: The Cape Cod Commission had urged the state to move Exit 1 away from the Sagamore. That wasn't done. Add to that the narrow lanes on the Sagamore Bridge, and the fact that everyone always seems to leave the Cape at the same time, and you've got a recipe for a lot of people stewing on the highway. Tom Cahir admits that there's a problem at Exit 1.

CAHIR: The project that we recently completed really had nothing to do with reducing people's time getting off the Cape, but this Exit 1 issue is legitimate.

THYS: The Cape Cod Commission would like to start testing closing Exit 1. Here's Bob Mumford again.

MUMFORD: And just to test whether or not it's true that this on-ramp is contributing to the backups on Route 6, there's the possibility of closing it down at peak times, whether it's a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday during the summer. At the Cape Cod Commission, we feel that is worth testing to see if that improves traffic flow coming off Cape.

THYS: Tom Cahir agrees.

CAHIR: It might make some sense to close that particular exit for three or four hours. We're also going to get police presence, or cones of some sort that enable the cars that are coming up 6A and up the Sagamore Bridge to start getting into single file some ways back, so that they don't come up at the end.

THYS: Cahir says the state will experiment starting next summer.

CAHIR: If additional changes need to be made, we can incorporate those probably into next year's planning, when you've got Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day.

THYS: As for today, good luck getting off Cape. And if you're stuck in a traffic jam, now you know it's because of all those people who tried to cut in line.

For WBUR, I'm Fred Thys.

This program aired on September 3, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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