Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Cape Cod Canal . . .

There was a touch of spring in the air today - no snow or rain, and the mercury actually rose above 40 degrees!  To celebrate, I decided to take a trip to the Cape Cod Canal to enjoy some much awaited sunshine!

The Canal is a great place to fish, walk a dog, ride a bike, rollerblade or run.  Because it has service roads on both sides and several parking areas at different points along its shores, it is a very user friendly recreation area.  Whether you go to get some exercise, or if you would rather just bring a chair to sit, read and watch boats transverse its waters, being at the Canal is a great way to pass an afternoon.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Cape Cod Canal, it is a 17 mile long, 540 foot wide man-made waterway which travels through a narrow piece of land that joins Cape Cod to mainland Massachusetts.  It was built in 1909 to connect two bodies of water - Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay.  The purpose of the Canal was to shorten the route from New York to Boston (which is does by approximately 62 miles).
(The Iroquois, owned by John Henry of the Boston Red Sox, traveling under the railroad bridge)

The Bourne Bridge, which crosses the Canal from Bourne, Massachusetts to Cape Cod (technically you are still in the Town of Bourne even after you cross the bridge), was built in 1933 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (who still are in charge of operations the bridges and of the Canal).  Its twin, the Sagamore Bridge, also built in 1933 as part of a Public Works Administration project by the Corps of Engineers, has long been viewed as the more traveled of the two bridges (it also crosses the Canal from Bourne to Bourne, but the Cape Cod side of the bridge is called "Sagamore" - which is one of the villages that make up the Town of Bourne).  Subsequently, its approach was redesigned in 2004 to try to alleviate the traffic backup that occurs in the height of the tourist season on Cape Cod.  The "flyover" was completed in 2006, but it has yet to be determined if it has actually improved the ongoing "Cape Traffic" problem.  Both bridges carry four lanes of traffic over an approximately 615 span, with a 135 foot clearance for marine traffic below.

(the Bourne Bridge)

(the Sagamore Bridge)

The other bridge that crosses the Cape Cod Canal is an operating railroad bridge.  Built as part of the same Public Works Project in 1933, this bridge spans 544 feet across the Canal, with a 135 foot clearance when it is in its raised position.  It is a "vertical lift bridge", meaning that the span across the water lifts while the rest of the bridge remains parallel with the deck.  It is lifted with the use of counterweights which are equal to the weight of the deck, making it ideal for railroad use. It is used primary by a local tourist railroad, and to take the trash off-Cape via train on a daily basis.   

(the Railroad Bridge with its center span lowered)

(a closer view of one of the counterweights on the Railroad Bridge)

As a teenager, I would spend the day making the trip from the Railroad Bridge in Bourne, to Scusset Beach at the opposite end of the service road on my bike.  When my children were babies, I would take them in their strollers in the warm weather for a walk along that same road.  Now that they are older, we take family bike rides together on that same path.  We look forward to a spring day when we can once again put the bikes on the back of the car and make the trip to "ride along the Canal".


Hopefully that Spring day will be here soon!

  To learn more about the Canal, visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cape Cod Canal website.

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