State will stick with two-bridge solution
The Massachusetts Highway Department commissioner said Friday that the state will move ahead with plans to replace the Lagoon Pond Drawbridge with two bridges - first with a temporary structure and later with a permanent replacement.
Luisa Paiewonsky, MassHighway commissioner, made the announcement at a meeting with the Lagoon Pond Drawbridge committee Friday morning.
While the state will move forward with plans to replace the bridge, they will also continue to mend the aging structure. Beginning next week, MassHighway will make several repairs to the bridge. Traffic will be closed over the span from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, while the work is conducted.
At Friday's meeting, Ms. Paiewonsky said that a number of Islanders, including the Tisbury selectmen, had asked her to reexamine the state's plans before moving ahead with any work on the drawbridge. "I did what I was asked," said Ms. Paiewonsky. "I took another look at it, and I went through everything and I kept an open mind."
After reviewing engineering reports, talking with the engineers and project managers, and examining the bridge herself, Ms. Paiewonsky came to the same conclusion that the state had reached more than two years ago. "We are going to continue to pursue a temporary bridge," she told the group of about 25 people who attended Friday's meeting. "The reasons for it are very clear... I am very concerned about the condition of the bridge, and I do not have any confidence that we can keep that bridge going without a fairly rapid closure over the next six to seven years."
Ms. Paiewonsky said that work on the temporary bridge is expected to begin this fall. However, she said if the state can begin earlier, it would. "We will push forward as aggressively as we can," she said.
Asked if the drawbridge committee had delayed the start date, she said that MassHighway put the project on hold for about seven and a half months while they listened to the questions and concerns from the committee. "We're not dwelling on that," she said. "We're moving forward, and we are glad that we have the support of the drawbridge committee to proceed."
Current plans call for the temporary bridge to be built along the Lagoon Pond side of the existing bridge. When the temporary span is in place, the old bridge will be dismantled and a permanent structure will be built in its place.
Critics of the two-bridge solution have said that the temporary span is too narrow for bicycles and pedestrians. They have also expressed concerns that the state will build the temporary bridge and will forgo the permanent replacement.
Ms. Paiewonsky addressed both issues at Friday's meeting. She said that the temporary bridge would be narrower than the current bridge. However, she said that she has asked the chief engineer to see if the shoulders can be widened slightly to better accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.
"I don't think it is okay to say you have to walk your bicycles across it for the next few years," she said. "I think we can do better than that... I'm going to make sure that we have a more comfortable situation for bicycles and pedestrians."
Addressing the concern that MassHighway will abandon plans for a permanent replacement or will lose funding once the temporary bridge is built, Ms. Paiewonsky said that she is confident the project will proceed as planned.
"Massachusetts gets about $500 million a year in federal highway funding," she said. "We also have ample state funding to address our infrastructure needs, and I am certainly not the first commissioner for MassHighway to put a very strong emphasis on bridges. I am highly confident in the funding. That is not something I would worry about."
Ms. Paiewonsky said that MassHighway has already begun the planning for the permanent bridge. She said that the state has created a short list of candidates to begin the design phase of the project. She stressed that MassHighway would continue to work with the drawbridge committee throughout the process. "You have my commitment that we will do this together," she said.
Community sensitivity is a key element of a MassHighway's new Project Development and Design Guidebook. In a written statement announcing the new guidebook in November, Ms. Paiewonsky wrote, "Recognizing that we live in a state full of classic New England downtowns, stone walls, historic districts and natural resources, the new guidebook places much more emphasis on what the community looks like beyond the paved roadway. This approach will ensure that the roads we design are compatible with community surroundings."
Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectman and drawbridge committee member who has been critical of the two-bride proposal, said he hopes that the new guidelines will give the Island more leverage during the design and construction of the permanent bridge. "I think the new manual is wonderful," he said.
A complete copy of MassHighway's new design guidebook can be found on the state's web site at www.mhd.state.ma.us.