Essay: Move the Steamship auto and truck traffic

Essay: Move the Steamship auto and truck traffic

As I watch the MVC struggle to deal with the proposed Stop & Shop and the traffic, both current and anticipated, I want to shout “Move the Steamship truck and car traffic.”

Such a proposal is not a new one. It was first broached by the Tisbury selectman John Schilling in the late 1970s, in a plan put before the MVC. It has been recently proposed again by the Editor of The Times in an editorial [Editorial : Keep the supermarket, lose the SSA's auto and truck traffic, August 14] and by letters and comments. There are various possibilities in such a move, and they should be investigated before the traffic problems become terminal.

Consider

Move the big boat car and truck traffic down Beach Road beyond the R. M. Packer Company complex so that cars and trucks would disembark in two possible directions — to Oak Bluffs or back to Tisbury. This would ameliorate the jam-up at Five Corners and facilitate travel for those heading to Oak Bluffs.

Keep foot traffic coming into the existing SSA terminal in Tisbury by encouraging the Steamship to use more pure passenger vessels as it reconfigures its fleet. These could run more frequently and be attractive to tours and those who park in the SSA lots. They could be small, fast ferries and would provide high margin revenues to the Steamship while fueling the merchants in Tisbury and the tour operators. In addition, the big ferries would not have to be the “birthday cake” giants like the Island Home. The existing Steamship building could remain and be a ticket purchasing point for all passages.

Problems

There would be a need for a jetty into the harbor to protect the new truck and car terminal on Beach Road from northeast wind. New slips would need to be built to accommodate the discharge of traffic on to Beach Road.

All of this would be costly. But would the alternative be cheaper? The Island population grows inexorably. It has become a destination for countless activities: vacation houses, retirement houses, weddings, tours, presidents (unfortunately), aspiring presidents, fishing contests, wealthy entourages of all stripes, and, of course, all the maintenance and service personnel to make them all happy. We are no longer the sleepy, little, informal Island of the past. This population explosion will plug up Five Corners and make the Oak Bluffs SSA terminal exit more and more difficult to navigate at ferry arrival times.

How to pay for it

Assuming the various town, regional, and ferry line planners subscribed to moving the Tisbury car and truck terminal, how would we pay for it? State funds? Federal funds? Bond proceeds? Assessments on each of the towns? Special add-ons similar to the various taxes in Boston on room rates? Fare hikes on short term turnaround auto visits? It would probably take all of the above, but these are issues for the planners, once the political leaders of the Island submit it to them. Feasibility studies are needed, and we have the MVC for that. This is clearly a regional issue suited for that body.

Do we have the will to make such a change? Or are we content to just let the traffic pile up, the huge delivery trucks jamming up Five Corners as they try to turn right at State Road, the tour buses and VTA challenging all and sundry trying to frequent the new Stop & Shop?

This is where we live. We should at least examine the possibilities of this plan, first made so long ago and then laid on the shelf to age. Is it time to move the SSA? Do we have the will to try? Is this not exactly the kind of regional impact plan the MVC should take on — especially since they are being confounded by the traffic issue on Water Street as it is?

J. B. Riggs Parker of Chilmark is a former Martha’s Vineyard member of the Steamship Authority.

SIMILAR ARTICLES