Work begins in July on the Lagoon span
Almost four years ago the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) announced plans to replace the aging and sporadically unreliable Lagoon Pond drawbridge. After a long wait, the first step in the project, the construction of a temporary bridge next to the existing one, will begin next month with site preparation, followed by the startup of construction in the fall.
A delegation from Tisbury and Oak Bluffs met for a pre-construction conference on June 21 with Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) officials and representatives from Pihl, a Boston-based firm awarded the temporary bridge construction contract. Island utility and telephone company representatives also attended the meeting at the highway department's District 5 office in Taunton.
Mindful of the Island's increased traffic during the summer months, highway and construction officials said both travel lanes on the existing drawbridge will be kept open to traffic during pre-construction site preparations.
MassHighway officials volunteered to meet at least monthly with Tisbury and Oak Bluffs town officials to keep them informed when construction starts up, according to Tisbury department of public works director Fred LaPiana, who attended last week's meeting.
A rendering by MassHighway of the temporary bridge the state has proposed next to the Lagoon Pond drawbridge.
MassHighway awarded the project contract to Pihl, a construction contracting company that specializes in civil engineering projects. Pihl's contract calls for completion of the construction of the new temporary bascule bridge, bridge approaches, and the relocation of existing traffic control signals and barrier gates in 2010.
Pihl came in as the low bidder for the temporary bridge project at $9,199,524. Lagoon Pond Drawbridge Committee (LPDC) chair Melinda Loberg called the price-tag "breathtaking," considering the cost for the temporary bridge was estimated at $3.5 million in 2003.
"But the state keeps promising us they indeed have this in their budget projections for the coming year, and that they plan to finish this project," Ms. Loberg said in a phone call prior to the June 21 conference. "That has been the big concern, that the temporary bridge would become permanent."
In a meeting in May, Mark Forest, aide to Massachusetts Representative William Delahunt, told Ms. Loberg and several committee members that the congressman continues to fight for funding for the permanent bridge, which he described as "tenuous."
Worried about the future of the permanent bridge, the drawbridge committee has pushed strongly for the idea of side-by-side planning. "Ordinarily, the state would build a temporary bridge, and then start thinking about the permanent one," Ms. Loberg said. "We improved on that slightly by convincing the state to hire the design firm and get them thinking about the permanent bridge. The timeline says the permanent bridge is to be completed by 2013, which allows them four years to permit, design, and build it."
Parsons Engineering, the firm in charge of design and most of the planning for the permanent drawbridge, has been given a notice to proceed. Ms. Loberg said the drawbridge committee will be meeting with Parsons Engineering staff to discuss the design process and dates for possible community meetings.
"The first thing that needs to happen is that we have to determine the height of the bridge before they can begin to develop any possible designs," Ms. Loberg said. "We have been talking about possibly making the bridge four or five feet higher than it is now, because we would like to be able to accommodate a few more boats that are going in and out, like the Sail MV sailboats, without opening the bridge."
However, the higher the bridge, the further out the approach ramps have to be, Ms. Loberg explained. The goal is to lessen traffic impact with fewer drawbridge openings, but at the same time, avoid making the bridge so high that the approach ramp impacts the entrance to Eastville Beach.
Parsons Engineering plans to inventory the number and height of boats that go in and out of the Lagoon to help determine how high the bridge should be.
"Once we get an idea about the bridge height, we'll talk about style, whether it should be a single or double bascule, and Parsons will bring down some models," Ms. Loberg said. "That will be worth a public discussion."
Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) transportation planner Jim Miller, who serves as the commission's liaison to the LPDC, said a public hearing likely will be held around the end of September 2008, at the 25 percent design stage.
"The temporary drawbridge is not going to be as attractive as the permanent bridge, but it will be functional and safe, and won't be there forever," Mr. Miller said in a phone call a few weeks ago. "The Coast Guard has only given them [MassHighway] permission to have the temporary bridge there for a finite period of time - they have to rebuild the drawbridge where it is."
In January 2007, the LPDC agreed to write a letter to Bernard Cohen, the new state secretary of transportation, stating they had accepted the MassHighway plan as the best way to proceed. The drawbridge committee continues to meet at least once a month. Meeting minutes are available on the MVC's web site, www.mvcommission.org.