After First Weekend of Stop Signs, Some Traffic Backups, Complaints

By CHRIS BURRELL

The stop signs went up at the notorious blinker light intersection early Friday morning, officially ending the days of nonstop travel between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown.

The four-way stop backed up traffic on both sides of the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, particularly in the rush-hour of late afternoon.

For motorists used to cruising down the busy highway at 45 miles per hour, the advent of flashing red lights and stop signs was a huge adjustment.

"The longest wait was 15 minutes," said Oak Bluffs police Sgt. Timothy Williamson.

"I've heard quite a bit, and in general what I hear is that it's an inconvenience," said Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. "But they also realize it was either do this or do nothing and possibly lose a life."

In the last year alone, accidents at the intersection of the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and Barnes roads have sent 18 people to the hospital emergency room.

Oak Bluffs selectmen voted unanimously two weeks ago to convert the crossroads into a four-way stop, an interim measure while they wait for state funds to build a small rotary, also known as a roundabout.

Police watched over the intersection for much of the weekend, but did not actually direct traffic.

"It was just a presence with a marked cruiser," said Sergeant Williamson. "That can do a lot to get people to slow down."

Traffic backups were common throughout the first three days of the four-way stop, but they were worst on the Vineyard Haven side of the highway.

On Friday shortly before 3 p.m., the line of cars on that side extended back to the Wind Farm golfing range. By the end of the weekend, people were reporting cars stacked up as far back as Sea Glen avenue, the telephone company and even Skiff avenue in Tisbury.

Sergeant Williamson just laughed, saying he's not sure he could believe such accounts. But even selectman Michael Dutton, who was on-site Friday, admitted the traffic lines were bad.

He also pointed out that for motorists on Barnes Road, the four-way stop has brought improvements. Already accustomed to stopping, they no longer have to battle their way into the stream of high-speed traffic on the main road.

"We love it," said Mr. Dutton, who lives off Barnes Road. "We never got a break before."

But the intersection has now joined the ranks of Upper Main street in Edgartown and Five Corners in Vineyard Haven in terms of traffic delays. "The problem is too many cars," said Mr. Dutton. "The problem is in your face, and it's a very stark reality."

A traffic study of the intersection commissioned more than a year ago by selectmen counted a total of 1,485 cars passing through the intersection in one hour in the summer months.

The hazards of the intersection have been no secret. Islanders routinely tell stories of near-misses at the junction, and accident number began to climb markedly more than two years ago.

The traffic study found that the traffic load at the blinker justified a full-fledged red, yellow and green traffic light. While some selectmen initially supported putting up the Island's first traffic light, others balked at the change.

They ended up supporting the roundabout option after visiting one on the Cape. The idea is also backed by the state agency, MassHighway.

The holdup now is money. Town officials don't expect state funding to be available until the fall of 2005. Last month, 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 could be $175,000, according to Mr. Combra.

For now, motorists have to get used to the idea of stopping.

The rules for a four-way are simple, but some motorists needed a refresher course. There were no citations issued, but Sergeant Williamson said some drivers were pulled over if they went rolling through and didn't wait their turn.

"If you entered at same exact moment, the person on the right should have the right of way; otherwise, it's just a courtesy thing," said the sergeant.