The West Tisbury selectmen sounded off to state highway officials this week over changes on the Mill River Ford bridge in North Tisbury, pressing for railings that would be in keeping with the character of the town. They also decided to revisit the precarious intersection of Old County and State Roads.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation representatives Pam Hasner and Bill Travers attended the selectmen’s weekly meeting on Wednesday after the public outcry over the guardrail replacement on the bridge over Mill Brook. State Rep. Timothy Madden also attended the meeting. A pickup truck went through the wooden rail on one side of the bridge in a one-car accident in late September. The state highway department replaced the railing with the metal guardrail with no notification to the town.
“The rustic, rusted wooden railing was plowed into by a vehicle and replaced by a lower metal guardrail, it has engendered some reaction,” board chairman Cynthia Mitchell said.
Ms. Hasner said the state highway department “put a lot of thought” into the replacement railing, which is made of weathering steel held up by wooden posts. She said a state bridge engineer “did extensive research,” but there is “nothing we can put in the existing slab that can structurally hold it.”
“The culvert [the bridge] is very old. It’s a granite slab with minimum concrete cover on it so our options were limited on what we could actually install,” Ms. Hasner said. “You can’t bore into the existing culvert without damaging it.”
The state is looking into installing something similar on the other side, Ms. Hasner said, but will need to go through conservation commission permitting before installing the new railing.
“Our options are very limited and safety is our number one concern,” she said.
The selectmen said the DOT had replaced the railing with similar wooden posts in the past, but Ms. Hasner said she was “not familiar with that.” Ms. Hasner said the old rail does not meet crash test requirements and it “doesn’t really do anything for safety”.
A bridge inspection team is expected to visit the bridge within the next few weeks, at which time a full condition analysis will be conducted, Ms. Hasner said. Previous plans by DOT to widen the bridge several years ago were never acted upon, but Ms. Hasner said the visit could result in a re-prioritization of the project. The widening project is currently on the programming list but is not funded, she added.
Selectman Richard Knabel pressed for speedy action.
“We don’t want to replicate the narrowness of the situation because that’s what’s caused some of the accidents and near misses practically ever day,” he said.
Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd agreed.
“The changing appearance of the bridge worries me,” he said. “Telling us there is no alternative . . . I find that hard to believe.”
“I think we should work hard to establish and replace the
railing that is there,” he continued. “It’s important to maintain the quaintness . . . and it’s an inappropriate [choice] for this town.”
Mr. Madden pressed for previous studies to be revisited and for character to be preserved.
“How do we make what’s there more fitting with what’s there in the past in still have some safety structure?” Mr. Madden asked. “This has been studied to death and I’d like to see the plans from five years ago. Roads are busier, trucks are wider . . . the sooner we could do that would be terrific.”
The board also took up the issue of the intersection of Old County and State Roads. The state highway department installed delineators in 2009, which have proved to be successful, Martha’s Vineyard Commission transportation planner Michael Mauro said.
The town and state need to discuss how to create “geometric improvements,” or how the curve and radius of the curve can effect traffic patterns and safety.
“The center line delineators still work but it’s time to see if we can advance the line further and work together to improve the geometric design for new improvements,” he said.
Ms. Hasner said DOT was looking for town input before proceeding and “how we can come up with a design that’s feasible for the town to make improvements.”
“We’re not looking to destroy the character of the town; we’re looking for geometric improvements to help that intersection,” she added.
DOT presented several plans to the town five years ago, including a T-shaped intersection, but the town rejected those plans. Mr. Knabel said new plans needed to be drawn up.
“The goal is to not speed traffic up, if anything it’s to slow it down — we’re not trying to get cars through that intersection faster,” Mr. Knabel said. “The idea of turning lanes and lots of pavement eating up that whole nice island . . . we’re not interested in that because it’s the rural character of the town and the rural character of the roads we’d like to maintain.”
Ms. Mitchell said the selectmen will meet with Martha’s Vineyard Commission members and “get back up to speed on terms of where exactly we left this” and return to DOT with their preferences.
In other business, the selectmen expressed concern with the latest version of the development of regional impact (DRI) checklist under review by the commission. West Tisbury MVC representative Brian Smith highlighted key changes in the checklist, including the commission’s decision not to include large houses on the list and new transportation project language.
Mr. Knabel and Ms. Mitchell criticized the commission for not recognizing the roundabout project as a DRI sooner. Mr. Smith said the new language would trigger a review if a project similar to the roundabout came forward.
“It seems like the commission is in a unique position to be intimate with what is a DRI or likely DRI, and therefore as the organization it is, it should play a role in educating town officials as to when it really is a [DRI],” Ms. Mitchell said.
“It is an issue if resources of the commission are used to working on a project that the commission recognizes is a DRI but hasn’t been referred, that is a conflict and it’s worth discussing it and exploring possible ways to facilitate a referral to avoid precisely the situation that’s still not really resolved at that intersection,” Mr. Knabel added.
In wake of the bridge and intersection discussions, Mr. Knabel said he would “like to see some sort of recognition that rural character of Island is to be maintained and anything that changes [it] is essentially a DRI and needs to be treated as such.”
Selectmen also opened commercial oyster season from Nov. 15 through April 30, Monday through Friday. Oystermen can only harvest three out of the five day with a two bushel limit.