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I am not much for muggy Florida or sunbaked Arizona. The breathtaking beaches and vistas of Cape Cod are as probably as close to Eden as I will ever get. 

But when it comes to the Cape, there’s trouble in paradise. 

Home prices on the Cape have taken years to recover after the Great Recession and have only started to gain traction in the last year or two. 

Businesses on the Cape, from home health care agencies to lobster shacks, are starved for workers. 

And the only way to get to the famous peninsula is over a pair of traffic-choked, New Deal-era bridges that not too many years from now will be a century old. 

In fact, all three issues are closely intertwined. The growing challenges of simply getting to the Cape are putting a damper on its real estate market, while also making it that much harder for businesses to get the labor they need. 

Congestion Cools the Housing Market  

Rising home prices are not necessarily the measure of a healthy market, and the Cape, like much of the rest of Massachusetts, struggles under the burden of an expensive real estate market. 

Still, in relatively good economic times, prices do, and should rise. In a normal market – which we most definitely don’t have here in NIMBY Massachusetts – they should be tempered by an increase in the construction of new homes. 

Home prices in the Boston area shot past their last peak in the summer of 2015 and are now nearly double what they were in 2000, according to the Case-Shiller home index. 

By contrast Barnstable County, which covers the Cape, peaked in 2006 and began a long slide that saw prices keep on falling until they bottomed out in 2011 and pretty much stayed there through 2013, followed by some modest gains through 2016. 

It’s not as if builders were going crazy on the Cape, keeping prices in check with lots of new construction – the Cape, like the rest of eastern Massachusetts, is starved for new homes. Something else is going on.  

It does not take a Nobel Prize-winning economist to posit that the Cape’s bridge bottleneck has effectively thrown a wet blanket over the sales market if, for no other reason, it cuts down the pool of buyers to those willing to deal with bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

Scott Van Voorhis

Old Spans Choke the Cape  

The link between the Cape’s fortunes and its too-small and increasingly ancient bridges is even clearer when it comes to the tourism that drives the region’s economy. 

With unemployment levels at historic lows, there simply aren’t enough workers right now to fill all the jobs needed to keep the Cape running, from home health aides to cooks and waiters.  

The Trump Administration has not rushed to accommodate business owners’ pleas for more visas for overseas seasonal workers. Icons of the tourist trade like the Lobster Pot in Provincetown have had to contemplate delaying opening for the season and cutting back on hours. 

At the same time, recruiting employees from areas with higher jobless rates, like New Bedford and Fall River, is made harder by the pair of routinely backed-up bridges standing sentry along the Cape Cod Canal. 

Real estate agent Michelle Sylvia commutes regularly from off-Cape to her office in Osterville. Each year, she has been forced to leave for the office earlier and earlier on Saturdays to avoid the congestion. 

“I have regularly seen a backup as I am heading home, and not just in the summer but on any given day,” Sylvia said. 

The Cape could learn a thing or two from Newport, which got a major boost after the roll-out of a new Jamestown bridge, said Greg Kiely, vice president and brokerage manager on the Cape for Sotheby’s International Realty. 

The journey from Boston to Newport is comparable to the trip from Boston to Chatham, barring traffic, but the during the summer season, the drive to Chatham is two or three times longer due to all the traffic backed up at the Cape’s bridges, he said. 

“Once the Jamestown bridge was replaced,” Kiely said, “Newport surged back to prominence not only as a vacation destination but as a significantly more vibrant year-round economy.” 

Fortunately, help might be on the way. 

State transportation Stephanie Pollack is throwing her weight behind a $1 billion proposal to have the federal government build two new – and, quite importantly, wider – replacement bridges. 

Cape Codder Kevin Pawsey summed it up rather nicely in his comment on a petition on calling for two new bridges. 

“I would like to part of the rest of Massachusetts and not be like Tom Hanks on ‘Castaway,’” he wrote. 

Couldn’t have said it better myself. 

Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at 

To Fix Cape Cod’s Economy, Start With the Bridges

by Scott Van Voorhis time to read: 3 min