Roundabout construction expected to begin in March

Work on the roundabout that will replace the four-way stop is expected to begin in March. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Construction of the controversial roundabout at the intersection of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs will begin on March 1, town selectmen announced at their meeting on Tuesday, December 11. If all goes according to schedule, the roundabout will be completed by Memorial Day, except for landscaping, curbing, and sidewalks.

Highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. told the selectmen that he expects little disruption of traffic during the construction.

“I was impressed that MassDOT (Massachusetts Department of Transportation) is really concerned with this project and instructed the contractor that all the provisions that you worked for, and the MVC (Martha’s Vineyard Commission) worked for, are to be done.” Mr. Combra told the board.

MassDOT, which is funding the entire $1.4 million project, held a pre-construction meeting with town officials and contractors this week. “They are aware of the sensitive nature of this project,” Mr. Combra said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Combra said that White Brothers – Lynch Corporation was awarded the construction contract. That contract includes several provisions to ensure a smooth transition for motorists. “There won’t be any detours allowed,” Mr. Combra said. “They can’t delay traffic more than five minutes. I don’t know how they’re going to do that.”

Relocation of utility lines near the intersection is already underway. Construction of the roadway itself is scheduled to begin on March 1, with paving of the traffic circle scheduled for April 15. When the work crews stop construction just before Memorial Day, the roundabout will be fully operational, with temporary road markings and signs. The crews will begin work again just after Labor Day to finish the aesthetic improvements and paint the road with permanent markings. The entire project is due for completion on December 23, 2013.

The roundabout, first proposed a decade ago, and approved by Oak Bluffs selectmen in 2006, sparked months of controversy last fall when the town of West Tisbury referred the project to the MVC. The commission hearings drew vocal opponents and hours of testimony, capped with an October 6 vote to approve the project with the chairman breaking a tie for a 7-6 majority.

A vote to rescind that approval in November failed in another close vote. Every town except Oak Bluffs opposed the project in a vaguely worded non-binding referendum question on spring ballots. Oak Bluffs voters approved of the project in a non-binding voice vote at their town meeting.

The towns of West Tisbury and Edgartown joined to appeal the MVC decision in court, but eventually withdrew that lawsuit. What the town officials learned from their lawyers at Goulston & Storrs, at a shared cost of approximately $34,000, is that regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation could move ahead with plans to construct a roundabout.

See the light

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Combra explained that Cape Light Compact will install energy efficient lighting on four street light poles, in the coming weeks as part of an experiment to see if the technology is feasible. Two of the lights will be installed on Lake Avenue, near Nancy’s Restaurant. “You’ll be able to see the difference between the new and existing street lights,” Mr. Combra said. The other two lights will be installed on Wing Road, near the entrance to the Oak Bluffs School. After a trial period, selectmen will decide whether to install the less costly lighting technology throughout town.

Selectmen approved a request to block a downtown sidewalk while a construction crew renovates the former Oyster Bar Grill. The Edgartown National Bank, which seized the property in foreclosure proceedings, plans to build a bank branch and retail space in the building at 58 Circuit Avenue.

Signs will direct pedestrians to temporary walkways. Construction is expected to continue through April.

In other action, selectman appointed Thomas Norbury to the harbor advisory committee. Mr. Norbury lives on the Oak Bluffs Harbor, and has experience that includes a position as harbormaster at the Navy submarine base in Groton, Connecticut, according to selectmen.

Selectmen also voted to close town hall on Monday, Christmas Eve, and Tuesday, Christmas Day. Selectmen will not meet during the holiday. The next scheduled meeting is January 8, 2013.