Despite winter, Lagoon Pond Bridge on schedule

An artist's rendition shows how the finished bridge and the adjacent park area will look when it is finished in the summer of 2016. This view is from the Vineyard Haven side looking east. — Photo courtesy MassDOT

Construction on the new, permanent Lagoon Pond drawbridge linking Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs is on schedule to be completed in July of 2016 despite a construction slowdown to protect the spawning and juvenile development of winter flounder and shellfish.

State department of marine fisheries (DMF) regulations restrict work that would impede or disturb the flow of water in the construction area from January 15 through May 31 according to Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT), the department overseeing the construction.

In early January, the Middlesex Corporation, the construction company building the new bridge, finished installing cofferdams on the west side of the project. Now, filtering procedures are being staged from a barge, and the excavated material is being used as nourishment to replace sand lost during hurricane Sandy, near Inkwell Beach in Oak Bluffs.

When the dredging is complete, work will proceed on the new bascule pier, the support for the movable part of the drawbridge and a retaining wall without disturbing the water around it.

The project continues, but the loud and obvious work of the crane moving pieces of steel and the pile driver pounding incessantly will not begin again until June. Melinda Loberg, chairman of the drawbridge committee, appointed by the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen and the conduit for local community comments to the DOT, said the slowdown means construction crews will be driving pilings all summer.

“We have given them permission to do that because otherwise we really would have a five year project on our hands,” Ms. Loberg said. As it is, the work began in the fall and will take less than three years, at a cost of $43.7 million.

The DOT announced plans in 2003 to replace the failing Lagoon Pond drawbridge in two phases, starting with the temporary bridge that opened in January 2010, built at a cost of $9.3 million. The original construction schedule called for the permanent bridge to open this year, but the project was delayed by a lengthy review process.

The two-phase plan allows vehicular traffic, which can be as much as 14,000 vehicles per day in the summer according to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission figures, to be rerouted during the construction of the permanent bridge, and also allows the drawbridge to continue to accommodate boat traffic, especially for emergency refuge in Lagoon Pond for boats in the harbor. A recent statement from the DOT said they do not expect any major traffic impact for the majority of the work.

Engineers believed there was considerable risk that even with repairs, the previous bridge, opened in 1935, would fail before a permanent new bridge could be built. In 1935 the bridge builders predicted with uncanny accuracy that their bridge would last 75 years. It lasted 78 years. MassDOT bridge project manager Steve McLaughlin told a bridge committee meeting in June that he expected the new bridge to last 75 years.

The new bridge will be immediately adjacent to the existing, temporary bridge, which will continue in use until the new bridge and approach roadways are realigned and able to accept traffic. Built a bit like a large Erector set, the temporary bridge will then be disassembled and used on another project, according to the DOT.

The area presently occupied by the temporary bridge and a house will be turned into a park area with a pathway that goes under the bridge on the Tisbury side and around to a small landscaped area with picnic tables and benches. There will also be an access road to that area on the Lagoon Pond side.

A short history

The first bridge between what was the economically robust port town of Holmes Hole, or Vineyard Haven, and the sleepy summer community of the Camp Grounds opened in March of 1871 the same year the Tisbury post office changed its name to Vineyard Haven. The Camp Grounds was a part of Edgartown until incorporation as the town of Cottage City in 1880. It re-incorporated in 1907 as Oak Bluffs.

The bridge was not considered necessary by many Vineyarders especially some residents of Edgartown who could see no benefit to themselves but over a short period of time those opinions seemed to change, according to the brief stories in the Vineyard Gazette of 1871, to the point that the success of the bridge was used as an example of why a connecting road between the Camp Ground and Edgartown village might be a good idea.

A brief mention of the bridge in the January 27, 1871 issue of the Gazette reads, “The severe weather lately experienced has interfered with the building of the bridge across Lagoon Opening. Three weeks of good weather would be sufficient to complete the work.“

The announcement of the bridge opening in the March 10, 1871, edition of the Gazette, was only two short paragraphs, one of which mentioned the county commissioners’ search for a bridge tender. The second read, “The bridge will greatly accommodate the travel between Vineyard Haven and Eastville.” The following issue of the Gazette dated March 17, had one sentence about the bridge. “The cost of the Lagoon Opening bridge is about $5,700. Of this sum Tisbury pays $3,800; Edgartown raising $1,400, and Chilmark the balance,” a far cry from today’s $43.7 million cost.

A Gazette story in the August 18 edition of the same year stated, “The bridge over Lagoon opening is of great convenience to the people of Vineyard Haven. Large numbers of teams cross there daily.” The article said the success of the bridge and “the shortened route to and from the Camp Ground,” was “an indication of the necessity for the beach road to Edgartown village.”

The first bridge lasted over 60 years and when electric trolleys were introduced in Oak Bluffs in the late 1890s they ran to and across at least part of the bridge.

The second Lagoon Pond bridge, the bridge replaced by the new bridge,  opened on August 16, 1935. Like the first bridge, it was built on wood pilings. Engineers at the time predicted correctly that the bridge would last 75 years. It lasted 78 years.