In early April, without any fanfare, the Vineyard lost its only traffic signal.
With the installation of a roundabout now about two weeks away, the two blinking lights at the intersection of Barnes Road and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road were taken away to the Oak Bluffs highway department, their lights dimmed for the foreseeable future.
The removal of the lights might have been lost in the shuffle as work began on the long debated, sometimes-reviled roundabout, proposed as a solution for traffic backups at the intersection long known as the Blinker. Intense construction work has been taking place over the last few weeks, with dirt flying, police in yellow jackets directing traffic and trees coming down to make room for the new traffic configuration. The result has been traffic more often seen at the height of summer, and lots of Island chatter about the progress of the project.
The roundabout project, estimated to cost about $1.2 million, has been in the works for over a decade. In early 2011 Oak Bluffs residents approved construction easements at a town meeting, and later that year the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved the project by a single vote. But debate about the project continued, and in spring 2012 five of six Island towns voted against the roundabout in nonbinding referendums. The question was not put to Oak Bluffs voters.
Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said this week that the first of three layers of pavement would be placed within about two weeks, and the paving would take about a day. Within that day, the intersection “would cease to function as a four way stop and would begin to be used as a roundabout,” he said.
This week, as anyone driving through the area has likely observed, the pavement has been excavated and removed, and gravel is being placed in preparation for paving. The gravel will come in three parts — a base course, a binder course and a top course. In the coming days, a center island (or what is termed a splitter island) will be built in what was the middle of the intersection.
Per policy for the Cape and Islands, Mr. Verseckes said, all work has to shut down before Memorial Day. By that time, he said, the first two layers of pavement should be put in place. When work resumes in the fall, the final layer of pavement and permanent pavement markings will be put in place.
“It will function as a roundabout, but it just won’t be finished,” Mr. Verseckes said. At the intersection now, roundabout signs are ready to be unveiled.
Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard
Combra Jr. said he has not received any complaints about traffic, despite long backups on all sides at the intersection which is near the regional high school and used by many Islanders who commute among the down-Island towns for work and business.
Mr. Combra said the state highway contract stipulates that there are not supposed to be construction-related delays longer than five minutes.
The blinker lights departed April 4, Mr. Verseckes said. A photograph shows them being carried away in the back of a pickup truck. They are now housed at the Oak Bluffs highway department, Mr. Combra said, because they belong to the town. But it seems their days of guiding traffic are over.
“I don’t have any plans for them,” Mr. Combra said.
See more photos of construction underway in our gallery, Coming Soon: The Roundabout.