Drawbridge breakdown snarls traffic
A broken motor left the Lagoon Pond drawbridge stuck in the open position for approximately six hours Saturday causing a ripple effect of traffic congestion in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.
At one point in the afternoon, a line of vehicles stretched back from the four-way stop at the intersection of Barnes and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road for miles.
Erik Abell, a MassHighway spokesperson, said that a transmission coupling in the motor that controls the drawbridge's lift mechanism broke after it was raised at 11 am to allow boats to pass underneath it. The state called in an emergency drawbridge repair contractor from off-Island to fix the problem. Workers did not arrive on the Island until after 4 pm. The motor was repaired and the lift deck was lowered at about 5 pm.
While the bridge was impassible, other roads and key intersections became clogged with traffic, causing backups worse than those during even the busiest summer weekends.
Like any routine drawbridge opening, traffic began to back up as soon as the traffic gates went down and the draw span went up. But as the minutes wore on, and the bridge remained motionless, the lines began to extend farther and farther on both the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury sides of the bridge. As the congestion worsened, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and State police were all called in to reroute the traffic. Theodore Saulnier, Tisbury Police chief, said it took about an hour to clear the line of traffic from Beach Road.
The redirected traffic quickly began to snag in other areas. The so-called blinker light at the intersection of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Barnes Road was one of the hardest hit places. Chief Saulnier said that traffic heading south on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road backed up as far as Skiff Avenue in Vineyard Haven. "It was the farthest back I have ever seen it," he said.
Chief Saulnier said that once the initial rush of rerouted traffic got through the intersection, with the help of police officers directing traffic, the backups were significantly reduced. The police and the town highway departments also erected signs at key intersections to notify drivers that the bridge was closed to traffic.
While the bridge failure was an inconvenience to many, it left the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) scrambling to maintain timely service. "It was destroying our schedules," said Darren Morris, general manager of Transit Connection, the company that the VTA contracts to run its buses.
Mr. Morris said that he had to add an extra bus to Route 13, the Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs route, which normally uses three buses. The back-ups on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road also affected Route 1, between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown.
"Going from Edgartown to Vineyard Haven was okay, but it was taking about 35 minutes to get from the bottom of Edgartown Road to the four-way stop," said Mr. Morris. "It was a mess."
Saturday's bridge breakdown was just the latest failure to plague the aging structure. In May, one of the roadblock gates got stuck in the down position, making the bridge impassable for several hours. That closure also caused significant traffic delays at a number of traffic hot spots.
The bridge's ailments come as MassHighway continues to move ahead with its plans to replace the drawbridge - first with a temporary structure, and then with a permanent bridge.
Mr. Abell, said that MassHighway is currently completing the final design plans for the temporary bridge, and is moving through the permitting process. He said that the state still needs to complete the environmental permitting, and secure a right of way easement. He said that MassHighway hopes to seek a builder for the project by the end of the year. Depending on weather, he said work could begin on the temporary bridge as soon as this spring.
As MassHighway presses forward with its two-bridge solution, the Lagoon Pond drawbridge committee is continuing to seek more information on the existing bridge. The committee includes representatives from Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), the county, the VTA, and other Island interests.
Following a request from the drawbridge committee this summer, the Oak Bluffs and the Tisbury selectmen agreed to fund a $14,000 engineering study of the drawbridge.
The committee said that it wants information independent from the data already collected by MassHighway on the current condition of the bridge. The committee said that it would use the engineering study to evaluate the state's plans, and to begin contingency planning in the event of a long-term failure.