Tisbury selectmen discuss plans for Beach Road improvements

The town has tough decisions to make about pedestrian and bicycle safety and access along the busy Beach Road thoroughfare.

The Mass Department of Transportation plans a makeover of Beach Road. — Photo by Michael Cummo

A team from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., joined the Tisbury selectmen at a meeting Tuesday night to provide an update on options for proposed improvements to Beach Road.

MassDOT plans to add sidewalks and bike lanes to a section of Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, from the Wind’s Up watersports shop to Five Corners.

The $1 million MassDOT road project is in a preliminary design phase. It is expected to receive federal funding in 2017.

John Diaz, director of traffic engineering at Greenman-Pedersen, an engineering and construction services firm, gave a presentation featuring illustrations of three conceptual plans with different options for sidewalks, bike lanes, and a shared use path (SUP). MassDOT project manager Thomas Currier and District 5 project development engineer Pamela Haznar provided additional details and answered questions. Planning Board members and Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) staff also attended.

Mr. Diaz said the project evolved from a pre-feasibility study done in May 2009 regarding the extension of Martha’s Vineyard’s network of SUPs. Last August MassDOT contracted GPI to design bike and pedestrian improvements along Beach Road. MassDOT held a pre-design public meeting at Tisbury town hall about the project on May 21.

Mr. Diaz said one of the project’s most critical areas is from where the SUP path ends near Wind’s Up to Saltwater Restaurant. The stretch is flanked by the Packer Company’s concrete retaining wall on one side, and the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard buildings on the other side, which makes especially challenging for fitting in sidewalks and bike lanes, he said.

Three concepts

With that in mind, concept one features a 5.5-foot wide sidewalk and 5-foot wide bike lane on both sides of the road from Wind’s Up to Five Corners, with two 11-foot vehicle travel lanes. Mr. Diaz said it would be the simplest of the three concepts to construct.

Concept two features a hybrid bike lane, with two-way bike traffic, and SUP on the eastbound side of the road, accessible by using a new crosswalk created by the Shell gas station. A two-foot grass strip would be added between the road and bike lane/SUP as a buffer. The westbound side of the road would have a sidewalk.

Concept three would extend the SUP from where it now ends near Wind’s Up, along the south side of Beach Road to Five Corners. Mr. Diaz said that design would require some takings, with a four- to six-foot impact on the eastbound side of the road.

Sam Dunn, an architect and builder who developed Tisbury Marketplace, also submitted an informal conceptual plan for the town’s consideration. During the discussion, he asked about the power lines along Beach Road and whether money that would be spent to move them could be put towards underground installation.

Ms. Haznar said that Transportation Improvement Program funds would pay for half the cost of moving the poles back for sidewalks and/or an SUP, and NSTAR would pay the other 50 percent. If Tisbury decides to put the utilities underground, the town’s ratepayers would have to pay the additional cost, she said.

MVC executive director Mark London suggested that town administrator Jay Grande and MassDOT representatives meet with NSTAR to figure out the costs. Mr. Diaz reminded everyone that even if the utilities are underground, there will still be street light poles along the road and in sidewalks.

Cyclist and business concerns

Chris Fried, who serves on the MVC’s bike-pedestrian planning advisory committee, expressed concerns about the safety of having children and inexperienced adults biking in a bike lane next to the traffic lane.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly an improvement, giving them a five-foot striped bike lane, instead of the narrow sandy strip they have now,” Mr. Diaz said.

His biggest concern, he added, is about the industrial section near the Packer Company and Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard. A shared use path along that stretch could put employees at those businesses at risk for getting clipped by bicyclists, he pointed out, “The hard part for us is to come up with a design plan that’s going to work for everyone,” he added. “I think whatever we develop there will be an improvement over what’s already there.”

Vineyard Haven Marina general manager Liz Wild noted there are nine curb cuts on Beach Road from the Net Result seafood store to the vacant Boch property near Five Corners. Of those, seven are associated with traffic from very active businesses,

As a representative of two properties on Beach Road, Ms. Wild said, “We’re opposed to any taking of land, and would support a bike path that goes inland.We need sidewalks and crosswalks, and to put utility poles underground.”

Mr. Diaz said that he and the MassDOT reps would put together the comments they heard, get answers to questions that came up, and incorporate all of it into a discussion about the project’s pluses and minuses, as well as costs, at a public meeting tentatively planned for October. At that time, Mr. Currier said MassDOT will be asking the town which concept it prefers to advance as the 25 percent design submission.

Other business

In other business, the selectmen instructed Police Chief Dan Hanavan to discuss his reserve fund transfer request for $12,723 to cover a fiscal year 2014 budget shortfall with the Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom). Chief Hanavan said he had under-budgeted for gasoline expenses and additional equipment purchased. FinCom chairman Larry Gomez said the chief’s request would likely deplete the town’s reserve transfer funds for this fiscal year, and that any future requests would have to be saved until the end of the year.

“This is the first time since I’ve been on the FinCom, in 13 or 14 years, that we’ve run out of money,” he said.

At Tisbury Police Lieutenant Erik Meisner’s recommendation as the town’s emergency management director, the selectmen voted to approve Tisbury’s participation in a mutual aid agreement with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Association and to appoint Robert Verdone as assistant emergency management director.

Also, the selectmen voted to appoint Martha Yukevich to the Housing Trust and Noreen Baker to the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council; to approve a participation agreement with Cape Light Compact for an LED streetlight program; to establish a joint Tisbury-Oak Bluffs Committee for Lagoon Pond watershed wastewater planning; and to allow the Planning Board to establish an advisory committee for its visioning process.

The selectmen’s next regular meeting is August 5. They will not meet again in August.