SSA plans changes to Vineyard Haven terminal staging lot

The removal of a covered walkway and additional travel and check-in lanes are intended to improve vehicle traffic flow.

This architectural drawing shows the reconfigured parking lot at the Steamship Authority Vineyard Haven terminal. — SSA

The town of Tisbury and the Steamship Authority (SSA) have agreed on a plan to reconfigure the staging lot at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal. The changes are designed to alleviate traffic backups during ferry arrival and departure times. Proposed changes include an additional ticket booth for vehicle drivers to check in, removal of the covered walkway along Water Street, and a redesign of the pickup and drop-off areas.

In October, SSA officials began to meet regularly with a committee of Tisbury officials appointed to examine traffic issues. The members included Selectman Tristan Israel, planning board members Dan Seidman and Benjamin Robinson, Police Lieutenant Eerik Meisner, and Bob Breth, owner of Martha’s Bicycle Rental at Five Corners.

Mr. Seidman said the addition of a second booth for checking in vehicles during peak traffic periods was a key improvement. “That should help with the circulation coming from Five Corners,” Mr. Seidman said. “A lot of times you will see a truck partially turned in, and that hangs up everybody.”

Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, agreed. “It takes one or two trucks, that’s all it takes for things to back up on Water Street, and eventually it begins to impact Five Corners,” he said.

Terminals in both booths will be hard-wired. Currently, the ticket taker in the single booth depends on a wireless connection, which has caused disruptions in the past.

At busy times, a second attendant equipped with a handheld electronic unit now checks vehicles into the waiting areas, but that has not solved the problem of traffic backups.

“We’ve always had the ability to have a second lane,” Mr. Lamson said. “We thought it would be better if we provide two dedicated lanes there, and two booths. The computers and the scanner are going to be hard-wired.”

Staffing will vary. “It may not be all the time that we’ll need the two booths, but generally in the morning, and in the summer on peak days,” Mr. Lamson said.

Even on the best of days, Five Corners can be difficult to navigate. Add a backup from the SSA lot, and through-traffic movement along State and Beach Roads slows to a crawl as drivers wait to turn onto Water Street.

“I thought we’d resolved it earlier, but it’s still an issue,” said Marc Hanover, the Martha’s Vineyard SSA member. “It happens infrequently, but when it does, it’s a real pain. This should eliminate it completely.”

No more shelter

The redesign also call for removal of the shingled passenger shelter over the sidewalk along Water Street. The sidewalk will be moved closer to the street, eliminating three parking spaces next to the right travel lane of Water Street. Those spaces are currently restricted to 10 minutes of parking for pickup and drop-off. Architectural drawings show four new shade trees and landscaping along the new sidewalk location, with a sloped bank where the elevated part of the split sidewalk now exists.

Eliminating the outside temporary parking spots will create space to add a second traffic lane between the angled parking spots inside the lot.

“The shelter is in disrepair; it either needs work or needs to be torn down,” Mr. Hanover said. “It makes sense to put two lanes through that parking area. There’s a real bottleneck when there’s only one lane.”

SSA and traffic committee members said they are not concerned about the net loss of the temporary parking spaces.

“I see people doing other things than picking up in those spots,” Mr. Seidman said. “By creating two lanes, for people who are actually picking up people from the ferry, it should make everything move more smoothly in that area.”

“From our experience, it’s used by a lot of others, and not so much for pickup and drop-off,” Mr. Lamson said. “Although there’s a loss of three parking spaces, we think that overall these changes will make for smoother traffic circulation through the area.”

There are no plans to change the current queuing lanes for passengers or trucks.

The SSA and the traffic committee plan to present the proposed changes to Tisbury selectmen on Tuesday, March 3. The SSA plans to issue a request for bids in late March, and expect work can be completed by mid-May, according to Mr. Lamson.

Beach plan

While it is not outlined in the current plan, Mr. Lamson said the SSA has heard concerns about the beach frontage adjacent to the parking lot, which includes a sidewalk, benches, and a gazebo that provides a scenic view of the harbor and is popular with the public.

“We’re looking into that to make sure our employees understand that the maintenance of that beach area, cleaning the litter, the trash, all that, needs to be kept up,” Mr. Lamson said. “We need to do a better job of that. We’re going to look into the shape of the gazebo, and see whether that needs to be replaced.”