Oak Bluffs selectmen in a roundabout way
A computer generated image created by the Martha's Vineyard Commission of what a roundabout at the blinker intersection would look like.
A speedy vote by the Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday ended a longstanding debate over what action to take at the Blinker intersection. The members voted 3-1 to begin the process of building a roundabout at the junction of Barnes and Vineyard Haven-Edgartown roads.
Chairman Duncan Ross and selectmen Roger Wey and Greg Coogan supported the construction, while selectman Kerry Scott voted against the motion to build a roundabout. Selectman Ron DiOrio recused himself from the discussion and vote, citing his position as president of Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard, which has built a house that directly abuts the intersection.
The agenda item called for the board to discuss and possibly vote on what to do at the intersection. Mr. Ross made it clear that Tuesday night's meeting would not serve as a public forum. The board held three public meetings over the summer, at which residents and abutters expressed themselves about the roundabout.
Mr. Ross did ask town public safety officials to briefly state their positions. "A roundabout would serve the purpose out there better than anything," fire chief Dennis Alley announced to the board. "In my opinion, and in the best interest of public safety, the roundabout is the way to go."
Police chief Eric Blake agreed, observing that the town seemed to be in a state of "paralysis through analysis" due to the abundance of information presented over the past few months. He asked the board to go forward with a roundabout.
Emergency management director Peter Martell and several Oak Bluffs EMT personnel agreed that in an emergency, their vehicles could easily traverse a roundabout.
The board did allow Trip Barnes, the well-known trucker, to speak Tuesday. Citing his 46 years of truck driving experience and encounters with roundabouts throughout the country, he called a roundabout in Oak Bluffs a "god-awful mistake."
Mr. Barnes spearheaded a petition that circled the Island last month, gathering - according to his estimate - 1,500 signatures against a roundabout.
"I think I have a pretty good pulse of what's going on on the Island," he said. "This is a big mistake."
Now that the board has authorized a roundabout at the intersection, town administrator Michael Dutton said the town must select an engineer to draw up plans, and find the needed money. The town must foot the bill for the engineering costs, while the Massachusetts Highway Department will pay for actual construction.
Mr. Dutton said money for the engineering costs could come from various state highway funds, the free cash reserve, or a budget request at a town meeting. Engineering costs are estimated to be between $20,000-$30,000, he said.
Board members speak out
Mr. DiOrio left the room before any discussion about the roundabout began. He said he consulted the state Ethics Commission, and they recommended he err on the side of caution, and not participate in the decision.
Mr. DiOrio said it could be perceived that, because of his connection to Habitat, he has a financial interest in the decision.
"I thought it would be prudent on my part," Mr. DiOrio said. "Since I am such a firm believer in ethics."
Mr. Coogan said he took safety, potential emergencies, and traffic congestion into account when making his decision to support the roundabout. He has been in support of the small-scale rotary since the idea was originally discussed two years ago.
"I am going to base my decision on all the material in front of me," Mr. Coogan said. "I'm not going to base it on an emotional response." He dismissed the petition discussed by Mr. Barnes, calling it flawed, and said people signing the papers had been misinformed.
"The information I have seen says the roundabout is safer than any other alternative," Mr. Coogan said. "This is not the Bourne rotary. We're not getting a helicopter to fly it over here. I think to stick our head in the sand and not move traffic there is a major mistake."
Agreeing point for point with his colleague, Mr. Ross said a change is needed at the intersection. He said traffic congestion would increase even more when construction begins on the drawbridge in Vineyard Haven. The intersection will need to handle detoured vehicles. "It is my opinion that the best thing for all of us is the roundabout," Mr. Ross said.
Selectman Wey was not so confident. Weighing his options aloud Tuesday night, he said it was "a pretty difficult choice" but said he considered the recommendations from public safety officials vital.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ms. Scott said it would come as no surprise that she is not in favor of a roundabout. "I have yet to have anybody who lives in that area or works in that area speak in favor of this," she said. "I don't have a whole lot of people in general speaking in favor of the roundabout."
Ms. Scott said that although safety data is important, resident and abutter response should also be taken into consideration. "In the end, what it all boils down to is that we have too many cars on this little tiny Island, and we all seem to need to go to the same place at the same time, and maybe we just have to accept the fact that for three months out of the year it will take us a little bit longer. I am completely opposed to the roundabout," Ms. Scott concluded to a round of applause from some members of the audience.
Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), who was in attendance Tuesday night but did not speak, said there is a great deal of work to be done, even though the decision has been made. "We still have to deal with the concerns that have been raised such as bicycle accommodations, relation to abutters, lighting, signage, Vineyard style and landscaping," Mr. London said in a telephone conversation yesterday.
In April, the MVC released a 34-page report - created at the request of the selectmen - analyzing the intersection and various possibilities for improvement. The report determined that the roundabout is the safest for vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians, offers the highest level of service, ensures the best air quality, has the most attractive landscaping, and has the least impact on abutters, compared to four other options. It is the second highest in cost, behind a traffic signal with turning lanes.
Mr. London said the MVC has not discussed performing a full MVC review on the project, but if it meets the outlined criteria, the project could be designated as a development of regional impact.
"We should make this the safest, best-designed and most context-sensitive roundabout in America," Mr. London said. "We always do things the best on the Vineyard, so why can't we make this the best?"
A rich history
The idea of a roundabout, a single rotating lane around a landscaped center where cars slow to 15 to 18 miles per hour, has a long and contentious history in Oak Bluffs.
In 2004 the Oak Bluffs selectmen voted to build a roundabout at the blinker intersection to replace the four-way stop that had been implemented the year before. But less than a month after the board voted unanimously to hire an engineer to design the roundabout, they voted 3-2 to scrap the project altogether.
According to reports at the time, the selectmen who originally supported the roundabout said the reason they originally wanted a roundabout was to make the notoriously dangerous intersection safer. The four-way stop solved the safety problem, they said, and argued that the roundabout would simply accommodate higher volumes of traffic.
Nantucket is currently in the process of approving a plan for a roundabout to replace an existing rotary on that island. Mirroring the Vineyard dispute, a Sept. 13 article in The Nantucket Independent states that many residents are vocally against a roundabout, even though the Island's transportation planner said it would reduce traffic congestion and improve safety.
The Nantucket roundabout plan would only be implemented if the town and various commissions decide the current rotary needs fixing.
In other business
In addition to the roundabout resolution, the selectmen also approved 13 warrant articles for the special town meeting next month. The articles needing approval include using $40,000 of free cash to pay for reconstruction of the East Chop bluff, $105,000 from the ambulance reserve to replace three police cruisers, and a transfer of $25,000 from free cash to stabilization.
In a holdover from their last meeting, the board approved a permit for Joe Mikos to run his photography business in his home, with a list of special conditions.
In his regular update, Mr. Dutton asked the board to exempt Joe Alosso, wastewater plant manager, from a certain ethics law, so that he could also serve on the finance committee. Mr. DiOrio said he considered it "completely inappropriate" for a paid town employee to serve on a town committee.
"I intend to vote no so that I am consistent in what I believe," Mr. DiOrio said. Ms. Scott joined Mr. DiOrio in his decision, while the other three board members voted to approve the exemption.
In their final vote of the evening, the board released a list of executive session minutes from 103 meetings dating back to Dec. 12, 1989.
"I'm certainly in awe of all of this. Seeing all these minutes is mind-boggling," said Linda Marinelli, who has long been petitioning the board to release a slew of executive session minutes. But not to let the board off the hook too quickly, she added, "But I do have a list at home that I plan to cross match this with to see if any are missing." u