Blinker Light: a Time to Stop

High Accident, Injury Rate Cited as Oak Bluffs Selectmen Vote; Stop Signs Up in Two Weeks; Rondabout by 2005?

By CHRIS BURRELL

Hit your brakes. A big red stop sign is about to replace the blinking yellow light at one of the Vineyard's most dangerous crossroads.

Citing public safety concerns, Oak Bluffs selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to tear down the blinker and put up stop signs within the next two weeks at the notorious blinker light intersection on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

The move comes less than a week after a moped rider was hit by a car at the junction and sent to the emergency room. In the last year alone, 18 accidents have left people injured and needing medical treatment at the blinker light.

"We've been patient waiting for funds for a roundabout," said Richard Combra, chairman of the selectmen. "At the same time, we've been crossing our fingers, hoping no more accidents will happen there."

The first choice of selectmen is to build a small rotary or roundabout, but they don't expect state funding to be available until the fall of 2005. Now, in the thick of summer, selectmen are pressing for a four-way stop as an interim measure.

Both fire and police chiefs in Oak Bluffs backed the action. "I recommend it sooner rather than later," said the newly installed police chief, Erik Blake. "We'll need heavy signage and a reduction in speed there."

Traffic from the Barnes Road side of the intersection already stops, but the busy highway traffic on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road sees only a flashing yellow beacon. The speed limit from the west side of the road is 45 miles per hour, and 35 miles per hour from the east side.

Fire chief Dennis Alley told selectmen his statistics showed a total of 18 accidents at the blinker in the last year, all of them leading to injuries that needed treatment at the hospital.

"We have to do something," he said. "We are now aware of the fact that this is a situation where someone could get killed. I am 100 per cent in favor of a four-way stop there."

Selectmen ordered the two chiefs and their highway superintendent, Richard Combra Jr., to plan the switch and implement the signs, police patrols and publicity to warn motorists who are accustomed to driving through the busy intersection without stopping.

While the move won unanimous support from town leaders, one resident spoke up and told selectmen that stopping traffic on the highway would only cause more trouble.

"A roundabout or a four-way stop is going to be chaos," said Don Muckerheide. "You'll have traffic backed up all down that road."

A traffic study of the intersection commissioned more than a year ago by selectmen found that most cars on the highway are going at least 40 miles per hour. The study also quantified the sheer volume of traffic at the intersection. During peak summer hours - late morning and late afternoon - traffic counters clicked off a total of 1,485 cars passing through the intersection in one hour.

The study concluded that dangers at the blinker would warrant an Island first - a full-fledged red, yellow and green traffic light. While some selectmen initially supported putting up the Island's first stoplight, others balked at the change.

Selectmen ended up supporting the roundabout option, an idea also backed by the state agency, MassHighway.

Last week, the Island's joint transportation commission voted to earmark the next round of state highway funding for the roundabout. Total cost to construct the smaller-scaled rotary is expected to be $175,000, according to Mr. Combra, the highway superintendent.

But town leaders are now convinced they can't wait to do something at the intersection. A four-way stop, selectmen said, is the second-best option at this point.

And Chief Blake added that this is the best time to implement the change since his department has the staff to invest in the scene. "Wing Road used to be no stop sign right into Barnes Road," said the chief. "It can be done. It's just a change of mindset."