Martha's Vineyard Commission concludes roundabout public hearing
Photo courtesy of GPI and MassDOT
A roundabout proposed for the blinker intersection in Oak Bluffs keeps coming around. The Martha's Vineyard Commission held a continued public hearing September 22 for the project's review as a development of regional impact (DRI).
After a couple more hours of public comment, commissioner Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark, who ran the proceedings as the MVC's land use planning committee chairman, closed the public hearing but kept the written record open until noon on October 3.
The Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) will conduct a post public hearing review at 5:30 pm that day. Depending on whether the LUPC determines it has adequate information on which to base a recommendation to the full comission, the project is tentatively scheduled for deliberation and a decision, at 7:30 pm, October 6.
Mr. Sederholm had continued the roundabout public hearing's first session on September 1 to September 22 for the submission of written comments only. After review of those submissions, however, Mr. Sederholm said he decided the issue of bus stop locations at the roundabout merited further oral testimony, based on questions from the commissioners and new information requested from the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA).
The proposed roundabout would be located at the intersection at Edgartown-Vineyard Haven, Barnes and Airport roads, which currently uses a four-way stop-sign system and flashing red lights on all approaches. The $1.4 million project involves the construction of a single lane roundabout at the intersection, with pavement reconstruction, sidewalks, drainage, landscaping, and other improvements.
How the roundabout came about
The Oak Bluffs selectmen approved the roundabout proposal in 2006, following a study of possible options prepared by the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) and after several public hearings, convened by the town. Oak Bluffs public safety officials and the MVC's Joint Transportation Committee, made up of representatives from all Island towns, supported the proposal.
The roundabout's construction was delayed until recently, when the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) accepted the project for funding under the fiscal 2012 transportation improvement program (TIP) for the MVC. MassDOT paid the cost of the roundabout design and also will fund part of its construction, with the rest paid for by the federal government.
MassDOT awarded the design contract to Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI) and held a 25 percent design hearing with an extensive presentation and public comment on April 20 in Oak Bluffs. After the hearing MassDOT authorized GPI to complete the plans.
With the roundabout back in the limelight, the West Tisbury selectmen made a discretionary referral of the project to the MVC in August. Under the MVC's regulations, selectmen can refer a proposed development in another town for DRI review.
The MVC voted August 4 to review the roundabout as a DRI and to speed up the process, to avoid any funding and construction delays. Construction is slated to begin next spring. The project must get underway within the fiscal year that ends September 30, 2012, to use the TIP funds.
Questions go round and round
MassDOT Highway Division project manager Thomas Currier and GPI vice president John Diaz provided technical details about the roundabout and answered questions from the MVC and the public at the September 1 hearing. Since last week's continued hearing was to be limited to written testimony or new oral testimony, they did not attend.
They also did not provide answers to a list of additional questions submitted by the commissioners to MassDOT after the September 1 hearing. In response to a question about the omission from commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, Mr. Sederholm attributed it in part to MassDOT's concern about the project's design budget.
"We requested that information from MassDOT, and they have to authorize the designer to provide the information, and they have to pay the bill," Mr. Sederholm explained. "I assume that maybe some of it is in process, and maybe some of it is not going to be done, because of their limits on the design budget. I don't know. But we didn't get it."
In response to an email from The Times asking for comment, Mr. Currier said, "At the request of the town, we will be responding to those questions that the MVC could not find answers to in time to present them at their hearing. We have provided everything that we know to the commission already in previous presentations."
Mr. Currier said MassDOT pushed out the project's advertising date about four months to accommodate the MVC's process.
"We have also spent about $12,000 in design fees to have GPI make presentations to the MVC and the town to help the commission evaluate the project," he said. "It is our position that the commission has received already all of the information it needs to decide the regional impact of the project."
Based on a revised schedule, Mr. Currier provided to the MVC last week for the project's design, GPI will submit a 75 percent design package to MassDOT on October 13, and a 100 percent design package on December 28.
"They [the MVC] appear to be wandering out of this constraint into areas of design detail that have yet to be resolved, because we aren't there yet in the design process," Mr. Currier wrote.
"Having said that," he added, "It appears that the commission is getting closer to making a decision. We don't want to hamper that progress and will do our best to provide again the information that is requested."
Mr. Diaz emailed responses to the commissioners' questions to the MVC on Tuesday this week (available at MVTimes.com).
VTA says bus stops a must
One of the details not yet finalized in the roundabout plans are bus stop locations and surface treatments. Currently there are no designated bus stops at the blinker intersection. Based on discussions with the VTA about current service, six bus pull-off areas were proposed, which would have to be paved to provide ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] access.
Mr. Sederholm said in response to concerns expressed by several commissioners about the bus stops' potential visual impact, the MVC staff suggested that the VTA might consider the alternative of one major bus stop with a shelter a half-mile beyond the roundabout in a place central to the high school, YMCA, ice arena, skate park, Martha's Vineyard Community Services, and Woodside Village.
VTA administrator Angela Grant submitted a two-page memo in response and attended last week's hearing to explain the transit authority's opposition to relocating or removing bus stops from the intersection. Ms. Grant said the intersection is critical to the success of VTA's timed transfer system.
As she pointed out, the proposed change to one bus stop at the high school would add a mile round-trip, which could delay what are now very predictable hourly transfers.
"That's not a good business practice," Ms. Grant said. "We've been able over the years to build our transit system by what people can count on."
Ms. Grant said that she would prefer six bus pull-off areas because of safety considerations for passengers crossing streets to make transfers.
"We need to make accommodations for buses — they're here to stay," she said. "And we need to make the accommodations as small as we can. I don't think shelters need to be at that intersection, but bus stops do, and lighting would be good."
No going around in circles
About 35 attended the hearing, including Oak Bluffs town officials, West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel, and a staunch group of the roundabout's known opponents.
Before opening the hearing to more oral testimony, Mr. Sederholm set the parameters.
"I see many of the same faces again, I know you feel passionately about it, but I don't want to hear the same arguments again," he said. "That's not helpful to us. This is a fact-gathering part of this deliberation."
Despite his request, many of the comments and questions were repeats. Discussion grew heated at times, and Mr. Sederholm used his gavel to quell a few outbursts.
Among the new comments from audience members, Bill Kingsbury of Tisbury said the Island community still has no answers about why a roundabout is necessary.
"The roundabout isn't making anything but a problem and a big bunch of money for a certain group of people," he said. His voice rose to a shout as he challenged the commissioners, "Got any answers? Just one? Make one up."
Juleanne Van Belle of West Tisbury said that earlier on the day of the hearing she drove around the Marston Mills roundabout. "I felt oddly transported, as though in a bumper car ride in an amusement park," she said. "It didn't feel safe, it didn't feel calming."
Christina Miller of Edgartown said she has biked around the roundabout on Nantucket and did not feel safe, with the traffic always moving.
Mr. Sederholm wrapped up the hearing with discussion of scheduling the project's post-hearing LUPC review. West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel, who initiated the roundabout's referral to the MVC, questioned whether the commission would be able to get more studies done and collect more information in two weeks' time.
"We're not going to do any studies," Mr. Sederholm said. "We have to make a decision at some point, with the record we have. I'll ask the commissioners if they think we need more information. If this is all we're going to get, we'll deliberate on what we have. We're not going to go on forever."
This article was revised on 9/29/11 to reflect the following correction: Christina Miller lives in Edgartown, not West Tisbury.