The Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday ended years of debate on the proposed roundabout at the blinker intersection, agreeing to build the controversial single-lane traffic rotary to help relieve traffic during busy summer months.
Selectmen voted 3-1 to begin the process of creating the roundabout. Chairman Duncan Ross, Greg Coogan and Roger Wey supported the plan, while Kerry Scott cast the lone dissenting vote. Selectman Ronald DiOrio recused himself because he is president of the Island chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which helped build a house that directly abuts the intersection.
Although no public hearing was held before the vote, Mr. Ross allowed a brief presentation by Clarence A. (Trip) Barnes 3rd, a well-known moving company owner, who led a petition drive that netted 1,500 signatures against the roundabout. Mr. Barnes said the roundabout would affect negatively the aesthetics of the intersection, a wooded corner where Barnes Road meets the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. He also said it would create a safety hazard for cyclists.
"Besides changing the appearance of something that doesn't need to be changed just to cut down congestion for two months, you're creating a real danger for the bike riders. I'll say right now that somebody is going to get killed, and I don't want that on my conscience," Mr. Barnes said.
Ms. Scott also spoke against the roundabout, citing concerns from abutters. She questioned why Oak Bluffs was paying the engineering costs associated with the project when it would be used by the entire Island.
"Why should we spend $125,000 to $150,000 to solve a problem that isn't ours alone?" Ms. Scott said.
Following the meeting, town administrator Michael Dutton said the engineering costs would be closer to $20,000 to $30,000.
Ms. Scott advocated keeping the four-way stop sign at the blinker intersection. She said a roundabout may relieve traffic at the middle of the Island but would lead to more congestion at the Triangle in Edgartown and the intersection of State Road and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Tisbury.
Ms. Scott also said that people should accept traffic in the summer months as part of living on the Vineyard.
"When it takes me longer to get somewhere I just remind myself that this is not Manhattan, and this is not the Beltway. I remind myself that this is Martha's Vineyard, and I accept it," Ms. Scott said.
But her fellow selectmen disagreed.
Mr. Wey, who formerly opposed the roundabout, said he changed his thinking because he thought the rotary would be safer than the four-way stop sign, and would help with traffic during the construction of the new Lagoon Pond drawbridge.
"You have to remember that traffic is going to be horrible while that is being built," he said.
Mr. Coogan said recent efforts to discredit the roundabout have been built upon misconceptions, false information and outright lies. He instead cited studies by the Martha's Vineyard Commission which concluded the roundabout would be the safest way to eliminate traffic at the blinker intersection.
"All the studies say safety will be improved. I have been present when the petition was being signed and I've heard people say - bikes can't cross, pedestrians will be killed - and it's inaccurate. You'd think they were talking about some three-headed monster. I think some people don't even know what they were signing," Mr. Coogan said.
Mr. Ross asked several town public safety officials to give their opinions on the subject; every one said they supported it.
"In the best interest of safety, the roundabout is the best way to go," fire chief Dennis Alley said.
Police chief Eric Blake also said he supported the roundabout, and urged the board to take action instead of discussing the issue further.
"I think at this point we're suffering from paralysis through analysis," the chief said.
The topic of the roundabout has gone in circles for five years, since selectmen commissioned a study by MS Transportation Systems that looked at five alternative solutions for the intersection, widely recognized as one of the most dangerous on the Island. The firm recommended either the addition of a traffic signal or the construction of a roundabout.
Based on the report, the selectmen elected to build the roundabout, and the project was slated for construction in 2005.
However, in July 2003, after a series of accidents, selectmen decided immediate action was needed and converted the intersection into a four-way stop as an interim measure. The four-way stop has been successful in reducing the accident rate, although there is still considerable traffic backup during certain periods in the peak summer months.
The selectmen then rescinded the decision to build a roundabout in response to public concerns about the impact on abutters, overall traffic impacts and bicycle safety. The issue remained dormant for years, until the MVC, at the request of selectmen, completed a report outlining several options to improve traffic flow at the blinker intersection.
Although that report makes no recommendations, it did conclude that a roundabout would improve safety, the level of service and air quality.
As selectmen Tuesday prepared to vote on the roundabout, Mr. Barnes pressed the board to consider the 1,500 people who had signed the petition. "You're making a god-awful mistake," Mr. Barnes said.
Mr. Ross responded: "I think you're wrong, and the research proves you wrong. That's just my opinion, just like you have your own opinion."
Following the meeting, Mr. Dutton said the town must now select an engineer to finalize plans, and to allocate the necessary funding. Although the town must pay for the engineering costs, the Massachusetts Highway Department will pay for construction, estimated to be around $400,000.
MVC executive director Mark London said work on the roundabout will not begin until 2008 at the earliest. He said the focus must now shift to designing the safest and most attractive roundabout possible, and suggested special attention be paid to the landscaping of the project.
"We want this to be context sensitive; it must look like it fits there. The goal is to make it seem like it has been there for years," Mr. London said.
Mr. London said he is optimistic that even people who opposed the roundabout will quickly learn to accept it.
"I think after a little while people are going to say: ‘That's it? That's what the big deal was about?' And they will realize that it's good for the Island," Mr. London said.