West tisbury selectmen criticize state over metal bridge railing

A metal guardrail has replaced the familiar wood guardrail on the Mill Brook bridge on State Road in West Tisbury — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Upset at the prospect of losing another piece of the town’s history and character, West Tisbury selectmen last week expressed frustration over the state’s decision to replace a wooden railing on a bridge along State Road with a metal guardrail.

The bridge crosses Mill Brook where it goes under State Road just south of the intersection of State and North roads. On September 26, a pickup truck reportedly crashed through one of the wooden rails in a one-vehicle accident.

In the following days, work crews from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) replaced the wooden rail with a heavy-duty steel abutment of the type often found along major highways but relatively rare on the Vineyard.

At their regular meeting on October 10, selectman Richard Knabel said the DOT never asked for permission or informed the town of their intentions to replace the wooden rail with the metal guardrail.

Mr. Knabel said DOT officials have indicated they would eventually come and replace the other wooden rail with a metal guardrail.

West Tisbury resident Phyllis Meras said the bridge was part of the town’s past and urged selectmen to take steps to preserve it. “It’s the closest thing we have to a Vermont covered bridge,” she said.

“If they have to replace it, they can replace it with what is there but they can make it stronger, but not put what I call a moped masher on the other side if they can avoid it. I think it’s a pity that something that is relatively attractive and of historic significance can be destroyed,” Ms. Meras added.

Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter said the replacement of the wooden rail was the latest in a series of changes that are slowly eroding the unique character of West Tisbury.

“We keep [taking] away those things that are so important to the town as a whole,” he said. “It’s a little thing here, a little thing there, and you don’t notice them. But you put them all together and it’s a really big change to the community.”

Mr. Manter cited other changes to the town — including the removal of some large trees and the paving of the parking lot as part of the new library project — as other examples of the town losing its “uniqueness.”

“You add all those things together and we’re not all that different from any other place you go. And I think it’s important to our uniqueness, and our character and our charm to maintain this,” he said.

Mr. Knabel said at one point the DOT budget line item to replace the bridge was around $1 million, although he noted the town fixed the small bridge on Lambert’s Cove Road at a much lower cost of around $20,000.

Mr. Knabel suggested the Martha’s Vineyard Commission add the entire Island to a rural roads historic district to help maintain the historic roads to a certain standard and also help secure funding opportunities. “If the Island were to declare itself a historic district, essentially there is a great deal of money to maintain and restore rural roads to a standard that meets that definition,” he said.

“So all over the Island rural roads would be maintained and restored to that standard, that would include the bridges and some intersections,” Mr. Knabel added. “That’s the only way to really preserve the uniqueness of a particular place.”

In the end selectmen agreed to have town administrator Jennifer Rand draft a letter to the DOT requesting a meeting to discuss the matter further.