West Tisbury intersection plans find approval

Plans that call for the construction of a T-shaped intersection with a stop sign on Old County Road. — Photo courtesy of MVC

West Tisbury selectmen received potential good news on two fronts regarding state Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to redesign and rebuild both the intersection of Old County and State Roads, and the bridge over Mill Brook in North Tisbury.

At their regular meeting on Wednesday, January 15, selectmen reviewed plans that call for the construction of a T-shaped intersection with a stop sign on Old County Road that doesn’t eliminate any green space, including where the town Christmas tree is placed.

Selectmen also heard encouraging news from DOT regarding a long dormant plan to widen the Mill Brook bridge.

Delays by the DOT in rebuilding both the intersection and bridge near the intersection of State and North Roads have been a point of contention with selectmen in recent years.

The intersection of Old County and State Roads has been the site of several serious accidents and there is a general consensus among town leaders and trafic planners that the crossing is dangerous and poorly designed.

The DOT in the past floated a plan to create a T-shaped intersection and another to create T-shaped intersection plus a designated turning lane on State Road for cars turning left onto Old County Road.

Selectmen expressed concerns about those previous plans saying they would increase the amount of asphalt, eliminate the small triangle where the Christmas tree is kept and lit each year and encourage motorists to speed up.

Reflective delineators installed by the DOT, which prevent motor vehicles from cutting across oncoming traffic on State Road, were installed as a temporary solution.

Meanwhile plans to expand the Mill Brook bridge have also stalled out. In 2006 the DOT proposed to widen the bridge from 18 to 22 feet and add a new sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists, but that plan apparently died on the vine.

Turn toward progress

At their regular meeting Wednesday, selectmen met with Martha’s Vineyard Commission officials regarding the latest plans to reconfigure the Old County and State Road intersection.

Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter experienced travel delays and was unable to attend the meeting. As a result the two remaining selectmen held off on taking any formal vote on the intersection plan.

MVC transportation planner Michael Maura presented the plans calling for a T-shaped intersection.

The plans call for the geometry of the intersection to be changed to open up sight lines for drivers traveling north on State Road. The T-shaped intersection would force motorists to slow or stop before turning left onto Old County Road.

“They would T off the intersection but the green space would not be eliminated. It would [T off] to the right of the green and a section of pavement would be removed, the impact would be far less than other previous concepts,” he said.

Mr. Maura said the changes should cost around $350,000 and be paid for by the state. The project will cost roughly 50 percent less than what was proposed several years ago, and could be programmed into the DOT’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) in fiscal year 2015 or 2015, he said.

Mark London, executive director of the MVC, said the plans would delay drivers turning on and off Old County Road. “If you want to turn right and lets say the car in front of you wants to turn left you are going to have to wait,” he said.

“But it will be a lot safer . . . all in all I think they have done what we asked them,” he added.

Selectmen were pleased with the new plans.

“I think this address the concerns we had with Plan A and Plan B and the selectmen at the time said they didn’t like either one . . . this is basically what we were looking for and I am happy to see it,” selectman Richard Knabel said.

Mr. Maura said the DOT still hasn’t decided whether to add a new turning lane or pave the shoulder of State Road to allow motorists traveling up-Island on State Road to drive around cars turning left onto Old County Road.

Mr. London said he didn’t think the shoulder should be paved. “I think if they pave it they give the wrong signal such as: pass here. If it looks like a shoulder people will treat it like a shoulder,” he said.

“Maybe we can have this discussion for now and if there is agreement to the general concept there can be start of construction,” he said.

Selectmen agreed, and will likely vote on the latest plans at an upcoming meeting when all three members are present.

Bridge plans looking up

Mr. Maura also updated selectmen on plans for the bridge over Mill Brook on State Road. In the fall, selectmen criticized the DOT for replacing one of the old wooden guardrails with a heavy steel abutment following a traffic accident.

The discussion led selectmen to question whatever happened to plans presented by the DOT back in 2006 calling for the bridge to be widened and a sidewalk added for pedestrians and cyclists.

Mr. Maura said the DOT plans to replace the other remaining wooden guardrail with a steel barrier. He also said the DOT inspected the bridge on November 25 and determined there was no immediate need to rebuild the bridge.

“What we need to do is find a compromise to the rail. Because they are saying there is nothing they can do as far as replacement of the culvert,” he said.

But Mr. Knabel said an environmental engineer for DOT went before the town conservation commission recently to report the agency is still interested in redesigning and possibly widening the bridge.

“They are looking for a funding mechanism and they are sensitive to our concerns about the narrowness of that crossing . . . the crossing itself may be structurally fine but its too narrow. Everyone agrees on that and they do to,” he said.

Mr. Knabel said his understanding is that the metal guardrails will only be temporary.

“They said they will replace with same on the other side but it will be temporary and they will replace it eventually with a wooden post and rail which was something that was proposed four years ago,” Mr. Knabel said.

Mr. London said selectmen might want to temper their expectations. “If they aren’t going to replace that bridge that temporary barrier may be there longer than you like,” he said.

But selectmen were encouraged that the DOT reached out to the town.

“I think it’s great. I think getting on the TIP and moving forward in a few years is great,” chairman Cynthia Mitchell said.

Cable news

In other news, selectmen praised town administrator Jen Rand for serving as chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Cable Advisory Committee for the past few years during often difficult negotiations with cable provider Xfinity (formerly Comcast).

On Wednesday, just hours before the West Tisbury selectmen’s meeting, the cable committee agreed in principal to a draft contract with Xfinity for the next 10 years. All six Island towns must now ratify the contract.

Among other things the contract calls for expanded service to rural areas of the Island, $620,000 in capital funding for public access television station MVTV and cable service to Chappaquiddick.

As part of the draft deal, subscribers on Chappy will have to pay a one-time fee of just over $2,100 and agree to commit to a year-round subscription for two years, after which they can go back to seasonal service.

Ms. Rand said she felt the town and the Island got a good deal. “It’s the same [contract] as the previous one, we are still getting 5 percent of the subscriber cost . . . they don’t do that often,” she said.

The cable provider has agreed to a complicated formula in which the company will pay up to $14,000 to connect certain subscribers, with the customer picking up the tab after that, she said.

Mr. Rand said the negotiations regarding cable on Chappy were hard fought. “It’s not ideal. So in a perfect world Chappy would get cable for free like everybody else,” she said, adding:

“But consider we started with Chappy not getting service, then it was $7,000 per subscriber, then almost $4,000 per subscriber, and now town to $2,139 per subscriber,” she said.

Selectmen thanked Ms. Rand for her hard work.

“For the 2.5 years that Jen has been chairman of the committee she has been immersed in it . . . I just want to say thank you very much for all you’ve done. I have a sense of how difficult it has been, besides how long,” Mr. Knabel said.

“You have done a spectacular job,” added Ms. Mitchell.