Agreement nears on Tisbury Beach Road project

Tisbury selectmen and transportation subcommittee members met with MassDOT representatives on August 17 to discuss the Beach Road project. — Photo by Cathryn McCann

A conclusion may be on the horizon in the ongoing saga of the Tisbury Beach Road project. This week, public officials and members of the public neared agreement on a plan that balances safety and aesthetics. One detail remains, securing an agreement from Ralph Packer, owner of property key to the new plan.

Tisbury selectmen met for a joint meeting Monday morning with the Tisbury transportation subcommittee of planning board chairman Dan Seidman, planning board member Ben Robinson, selectman Melinda Loberg, and representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

The turn in the discussion occurred when selectman Larry Gomez pointed out exactly what he would like to see in the plan: a sidewalk on both sides that extends to Mone Insurance Agency. The proposed plan shows the sidewalk ending similar to where it currently ends, near the Shell Station.

“I’m with you there, I think a sidewalk out to there makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Robinson said. “But the only way to do it is to widen the right of way taking or get Mr. Packer to agree to do something on his property, and that’s really the only way it would happen.”

Ms. Loberg then suggested they do just that. “We just said that the only way we can get that sidewalk on that side is to widen the takings,” she said. “Why don’t we consider widening the takings just for that section?”

The MassDOT representatives confirmed that was a plausible solution. The currently proposed 41-foot right of way hybrid plan would stay the same, but in order to extend the sidewalk as far as Mone Insurance Agency, they would have to extend the right of way to 44.5 feet for that section of the road.

It would require the state to take 3.5 more feet in front of Ralph Packer’s property on Beach Road, in order to continue the sidewalk.

“I like the other plan, but I’m willing to mull around with a change,” board of selectmen chairman Tristan Israel said. “So I’m suggesting we have this traffic group have a heart-to-heart with Ralph, and I think we need to do it sooner rather than later.”

Mr. Israel said that if Mr. Packer is amenable, the selectmen would hold another public meeting. He added that he hopes a decision can be made “in the next couple weeks.”

“The conversation regarding the possibility of extending the north side sidewalk further towards Tisbury Wharf and the Mone Insurance building is only in the very earliest stage, and if it is indeed added to the project scope, it will affect how the transitions will be finally developed,” Mr. Robinson said Tuesday.

In a phone call Tuesday morning, Mr. Packer said it was a very busy week and he would wait to meet with the transportation subcommittee next week before forming any opinions.

MassDOT district five project development engineer Pam Haznar said during the meeting that the timeline may need to be reconsidered. “As it is right now, we might be too late for 2017,” she said, adding that it is a laborious process but that they will do “whatever we can to make it.”

Split decision

The Tisbury planning board took a much more hands-on approach to the Beach Road project conversation at a meeting on August 12 after weeks of circular discussions. Mr. Seidman began the meeting by holding up a tape measure to demonstrate the 12 inches that would be the difference between the current 40-foot right of way and the planning board’s proposed 41-foot right of way.

Mr. Robinson followed up with a powerpoint presentation detailing the specifics of the proposed 41-foot hybrid option. By the end of the two-hour meeting, however, it was all for naught. The planning board voted unanimously to move forward with the 41-foot hybrid option, but the selectmen voted 2 to 1 against it, keeping the project at a standstill.

Beach Road is one of a number of roads addressed in the Martha’s Vineyard Transportation Plan 2015-2040 (MVTP), released in a draft version on June 19, which outlined long-range transportation plans, goals, and strategies working “within estimated federal and state funding to establish priorities for improvements to the Island transportation systems.”

The plan recognized that bikes and pedestrians often end up on the roadways simply due to a lack of any alternative. That is the case on Beach Road, which has long stretches with no designated bicycle or pedestrian space, and is the direct route between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.

The current road from Five Corners past Packer’s has a 40-foot-wide right of way. On August 5 the planning board proposed a “41-foot hybrid option,” which would provide two 10.5-foot travel lanes with 4.5-foot bicycle lanes and 5.5-foot sidewalks on either side. The plan showed an eventual transition to a “shared-use path section,” which would include the same 10.5-foot travel lanes, but one side would have a 2-foot buffer and 2-foot shoulder, and the other side would have a 2-foot shoulder with a 4- to 5-foot landscape area and 10-foot shared-use path (SUP). It would connect to the current SUP between Wind’s Up and the drawbridge over the entrance to Lagoon Pond.

That SUP design has been the main sticking point for the project, as there is both passionate support for and opposition to off-road paths within the town.

Although many didn’t participate, a brief survey of the audience at the August 12 meeting resulted in a 7 to 3 vote in support of the 41-foot hybrid option, which would include the SUP. Among public officials, selectmen Larry Gomez and Tristan Israel opposed the plan. Both were proponents of 10.5-foot travel lanes, 4.5-foot shoulders, and 5.5-foot sidewalks for the length of the road.

Mr. Gomez expressed concern with traffic confusion. A SUP would have traffic flowing in both directions on one path.

“I’m used to riding on the right side of the road, and on a shared use path I have to watch someone come toward me,” he said. “Most of us are used to going one direction. Coming off the bridge I see people stay on the right side.”

Mr. Israel focused on the aesthetics of the proposed plan. He said a SUP may be unsightly, and look “ramshackle” 10 years from now.

“I think SUPs on the Island are great, I think the bike network is great, but we’re talking about a short area here,” he said. “I would like to see something that is a gateway to our town that looks and feels like we care and respect the entranceway to our town with sidewalks on both sides, room for bikes, narrowing the road so it’s a little more traffic calming for the vehicles, and planning to have a nice promenade where people can walk into town.”

Mr. Robinson’s presentation included data from MVC studies to the contrary of Mr. Gomez and Mr. Israel’s position: “Road count observations conducted by the MVC on three different days show that cyclists leaving V.H. headed to O.B. chose to ride on the short segment of existing SUP between Wind’s Up and the Lagoon boat ramp by a greater than 10 to 1 margin.”

The presentation pointed to a stretch of road in Edgartown as an example of a congested road with an adjacent SUP: “So far it has been great, and many more people are using bikes, hotels in Edgartown now are offering bike services, and MVC counts show three times the number of bikes using this stretch of road than Beach Road.”

Former Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal supported the 41-foot hybrid plan but suggested compromising by dividing the SUP into bike and pedestrian specific areas. Mr. Packer suggested reducing the speed, repairing the sidewalks, and having cyclists walk their bikes from Five Corners to Wind’s Up as an alternative.