New Lagoon Pond drawbridge opens to traffic

Workers quickly moved the barriers blocking the newly painted traffic lanes over the new $40 million bridge Tuesday, and the switch was made.

Vehicles flowed over the newly opened Lagoon Pond drawbridge in both directions shortly after it opened to traffic Tuesday afternoon. - Photo by David Welch

With no fanfare and just a handful of observers to mark the occasion, the new Lagoon Pond drawbridge that spans the channel between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs opened to traffic about 2 pm Tuesday afternoon.

The switch from the temporary to the permanent bridge was straightforward. Crews from general contractor Middlesex Corp. briefly stopped traffic and moved traffic cones and barrels from one side of the road to the other.

Within minutes, a steady stream of traffic flowed in both directions. Motorists, many of whom have watched the bridge take shape, celebrated the occasion with beeping horns and shouts of congratulations. One man leaned out his car window to take pictures.

Maribeth Hemberger-Priore of Vineyard Haven, in her silver Mitsubishi SUV with the distinctive license plate ISLGRL, was the first car over from Vineyard Haven. She noted the occasion in a Facebook posting a short time later: “We were the first ones to cross over the bridge from

Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs. What a beautiful bridge. Well done.”

Members of the Lagoon Pond bridge committee (LPBC) were the first to drive from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven. LPBC chairman and Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg, smiling and waving from behind the wheel of her bright red Jeep, took former Martha’s Vineyard Commission Executive Director Mark London and committee member Scott Tuttle for a commemorative ride, followed by Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel in his silver pickup truck, with his passenger Oak Bluffs selectman Gail Barmakian.

Earlier crews worked feverishly to clean the lanes of debris and attend to last-minute details as a small group of officials gathered to mark the moment. Mr. London, who helped oversee the design process, said the bridge represented a good example of groups working together.

As an example, he pointed to the landscaping plan that would include a park and pedestrian walkway along the shore and under the bridge.

“It is nice to see one of the Island’s biggest projects come to fruition,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Ms. Loberg expressed her appreciation to all the workers involved in constructing the bridge. “There are so many people that came from all over the place to build this bridge,” she said. “They have taken a lot of pride in this, and they’re really the unsung heroes. They’ve been here through horrible snowstorms, ice storms, and miserable weather.”

She said the outcome was worth it. “It’s going to be a beautiful bridge,” she said. “It’s going to be a natural part of the road system for many, many years.”

As he supervised last-minute preparations, David Nash, project supervisor, said, “It’s always good to do a job you can be proud of.”

The work’s not over

The remaining phase of the project to replace the aging and sporadically unreliable 1930s-era drawbridge is the removal of the temporary bridge, put in place while construction proceeded on the permanent bridge.

That process is expected to begin soon, Ms. Loberg told The Times. The contractor, Middlesex Corp., has a compressed timeline to complete the work in the water by Jan. 31, 2016.

State Division 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 to protect the spawning and juvenile development of winter flounder and shellfish.

The project is on schedule, however, and weather permitting, Middlesex expects to have the bridge dismantled by the deadline, Ms. Loberg said.

She said more traffic delays can be expected.

“There’s parts of the bridge and adjacent sidewalk, et cetera, that have not yet been constructed because of the presence of the existing temporary bridge,” she said.

The bridge project, including landscaping on both the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs sides, is expected to be complete by June 2016.

The initial construction estimate for the permanent drawbridge was $37.9 million, but the value of the contract MassDOT awarded was $43.7 million. Construction began in November 2013.

The two-bridge process

MassDOT 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 in 2014, but the project was delayed by a lengthy review process.

MassDOT gave two basic reasons for its two-phase plan. Building a temporary bridge allowed vehicular traffic (which can be as much as 14,000 vehicles per day in the summer, according to Martha’s Vineyard Commission figures) to be rerouted during the construction of the permanent bridge, and also allowed the drawbridge to continue to accommodate boat traffic, especially for emergency refuge in Lagoon Pond for boats in the harbor.

Engineers believed there was considerable risk that even with repairs, the previous bridge, which 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 2014 that he expected the new bridge to last 75 years.

The LPBC was created in 2005 to provide a conduit for local comments to MassDOT. Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen appointed the committee members. Former Martha’s Vineyard Commission Executive Director Mark London and senior planner Bill Veno also participate as nonvoting members on the committee, and the commission’s staff provides assistance and organizes the meetings.

Ms. Loberg said she can’t believe it’s been 10 years since talk of a new bridge first started.

“Now that I’m at the other end of it, it’s been really fascinating, seeing how complex this project has been on so many levels,” she said. “Being able to crawl around inside and see the inner workings of the bridge and all the parts that they have to think about has been really fascinating.”

She has tremendous respect for the contractor, she said, who has been “orchestrating the timing on having the supplies come at the right time and having all the paperwork filled out for approvals from the DOT.”