Selectmen change course on Beach Road design

In a quick turn of events, a change of heart by selectman Tristan Israel led to a 2-1 vote for the “hybrid-hybrid” design largely undiscussed at last week’s meeting.

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Photo by Cathryn McCann

With the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) 2017 grant window closing, Tisbury selectmen voted 2-1 Tuesday night in favor of the so-called “hybrid-hybrid” plan for Beach Road, but with an added twist.

The decision reversed a 2-1 vote one week earlier in favor of the so-called “symmetrical” plan, one of three plans on the table for the comprehensive and long-discussed redesign of the roadway from Five Corners to the Lagoon Pond drawbridge.

The critical swing vote on the three-member board of selectmen was Tristan Israel, who last week voted with Larry Gomez, and this week voted with Melinda Loberg.

On Sept. 29, Mr. Israel and Mr. Gomez, in the face of stiff opposition by those in attendance at the public meeting, chose the symmetrical plan, which calls for 10.5-foot travel lanes, 4.5-foot bike lanes, and 5.5-foot sidewalks extending as far as Winds Up from Five Corners. In doing so they ignored a recommendation by Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) transportation planners in favor of incorporating a shared-use path (SUP) into the road project.

The hybrid plans feature a 10-foot SUP that would begin at the Tisbury marketplace and connect to the existing SUP between Wind’s Up and the Lagoon Pond drawbridge, and a future 10-foot SUP crossing over the bridge into Oak Bluffs.

The variation in the hybrid designs relate to whether the sidewalk on the harbor side of the road, which currently ends at the Shell station, would extend to Tisbury Wharf or up to Mone Insurance.

Regardless of the Tuesday night vote, it is uncertain if Tisbury acted quickly enough to allow MassDOT to begin the bidding process and secure the rights-of-way needed to receive $2.4 million in state and federal funding in the 2017 federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2016.

Prior to the start of their discussion Tuesday night, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande told selectmen he spoke with MassDOT representative Pamela Haznar, who said that in all likelihood, the timeline for putting the project to bid and starting construction has slipped one year. Mr. Grande said the project could remain on its intended timeline through some fast-tracking, if the town acted quickly and in a timely manner to get behind a plan.

Best of the worst

Mr. Israel, previously a strong opponent of the hybrid plans, cited the motion made by Melinda Loberg to support either the hybrid or the hybrid-hybrid plan at last week’s meeting for his change of heart. He said he had previously been prepared to accept a version of the hybrid plan, had Ralph Packer, owner of the R.M. Packer complex on Beach Road, agreed to a 3.5-foot taking in front of his heating and fueling operation to extend a sidewalk to Mone Insurance Agency.

Mr. Packer turned down the request, which left the town with the existing hybrid-hybrid plan, in which the sidewalk ends at the corner in the road, near Packer wharf.

Mr. Israel said that after speaking to Mr. Grande and planning board members after last week’s meeting, it dawned on him that a compromise could be worked out based on a version of the hybrid-hybrid plan. He proposed extending the sidewalk on the harbor side “as far as possible toward the bridge” and leading to an area that would be a safe transition over to the south side of the road.

“I think if we tell the state we want to move the sidewalk as far to the bridge as is reasonable and where the planning board and everybody else feels is a safe place to cross, I could accept the SUP on the other side,” he said. “I would also hope that we look at that and try to get rid of some of the curb cuts and try to make that as safe as possible.”

He called the compromise “the best of the worst of both worlds.”

Selectman Gomez immediately voiced his continued opposition to any hybrid plan that includes a shared-use path.

“People have to understand it’s a left and right situation, you go out one side and come back the other side,” he said. “I think last week we should’ve stayed with the 2-1 vote and passed it on to the state.” He said the move was a “big mistake.”

Selectman Melinda Loberg expressed her support for Mr. Israel’s proposal, and hinted at the possibility that it will require a property easement along some stretches of the road, a move almost all attendees at a Sept. 24 Tisbury vision council meeting advocated for. She said the town has been unwavering about the 41-foot right-of-way from the beginning, which may not have been realistic.

“The state knew that we were probably going to have trouble serving our needs and providing safety for all of the constituents using the road within that particular right-of-way, and yet they gave us the time to sort of work it out for ourselves,” she said.

She said that within some small transition areas “we’re going to have to allow the state to make some easing in that right-of-way.”

“No gigantic highway is going to be built, but we have to work with them all the way through this project on the adjustments they need to provide us with a safe roadway, a safe walkway, safe shoulders, and a safe SUP,” she said.

She made a motion to move forward with a recommendation to the MassDOT that supports the hybrid-hybrid layout “to include the SUP on the south side and sidewalk on the north side as can be safely fit within the smallest right-of-way that can be had.”

Mr. Gomez questioned if that meant backtracking and taking an easement from Mr. Packer’s property. Mr. Israel said, “Maybe.”

“We’re going to try to lay out a sidewalk as far forward as is feasible, working with the state,” he said. “If down the road there’s a few feet involved, we’ll talk about a few feet, but to make it as innocuous as possible.”

Late in the game

Amid all of the discussion of symmetrical, hybrid, and hybrid-hybrid plans, there has been no discussion of MVC review as a development of regional impact (DRI).

The DRI criteria include developments that “have such significant impacts on their surroundings that they would affect more than one town.”

Past DRI project reviews have included the roundabout on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road and the bowling alley in Oak Bluffs.

In a telephone conversation Friday, Ms. Loberg told The Times that if an MVC referral were to happen, the project almost certainly would lose 2017 funding.

“I think it’s really late in the game to make that decision, make that diversion,” she said. “The MVC has their own course and process, how they do things, and I doubt that they would be providing any kind of immediate response either.”

In a conversation Friday prior to his change of heart, Mr. Israel said he didn’t believe a referral was necessary because commission staff have been involved every step of the way.

“I believe the impacts are regional, but no, I don’t think it would be necessary to go back to the commission, because quite frankly if there are people who are saying that should happen, they’re saying it because it appears that we’re not doing what they think should happen,” he said.

Mr. Gomez told The Times Friday the Beach Road decision should not be up to the MVC.

“I think we can make our own decisions just as well as the MVC thinks they can for the rest of the Island,” he said. “Whether we pick a direction that turns out to be sort of wrong, or totally wrong, it’s still our decision. We made it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the symmetrical plan would extend as far as the Lagoon Pond drawbridge. It will only extend to the beginning of the sea wall, near Winds Up.