Take it slow on Beach Road


If the redesign of Beach Road was a relationship status on social media, it might say, “It’s complicated.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) is promising to provide final drawings of its plans next month, and then, sometime in fiscal 2019, put the $4.3 million project out to bid.

But given what’s known now, after the 75 percent design phase, there is considerable pushback in town, and no one is quite certain what the state will present in those final plans.

The Packers, a large property owner on the Vineyard Haven waterfront, don’t like the idea of a boardwalk on their property. The idea of the boardwalk was introduced because town leaders expressed the desire to have a sidewalk that would safely allow passengers from cruise ships that dock at R.M. Packer to safely meander into town. It’s a good thought, considering the shops and restaurants of Vineyard Haven rely on tourism to keep them operating.

That element would be designed by DOT, but wouldn’t be part of the project. The town would have to come up with the cost of building the boardwalk.

But the boardwalk seems like a losing proposition. The public isn’t likely to support a project that is opposed so vigorously by the property owner and requires land taking through eminent domain. If that wasn’t enough, it’s hard to justify the expense of building what Dorothy Packer calls “a boardwalk to nowhere,” given the competing interests in town — including a new school project that will require a significant tax increase in order to move forward. There’s also the seawall project, which the town is putting before voters this spring — a project much more important to the survival of Beach Road. Though that has an overall price tag of $6 million, the town is hoping to get grants that will bring its share down to $1.7 million.

Then there’s the shared-use path. Frank Brunelle, a property owner who will be affected by the proposed bicycle and pedestrian path, is trying to drum up opposition to the idea, saying it’s unsafe because of the number of curb cuts it will pass by. The idea of a shared-use path is to limit a cyclist’s or pedestrian’s exposure to moving traffic. The shared-use path proposed won’t do that, Mr. Brunelle says. “In my opinion, it would be a tragic mistake,” he said. “Curb cuts cause a danger to people coming and going in and out, because you don’t know if you’re going to hit someone or not.”

The shared-use path isn’t ideal, but would link the Lagoon Drawbridge and, ultimately, downtown Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs and beyond. It could work if the idea of a shared-use path through some properties over to Veterans Memorial Park comes to fruition, but that vision has to come into sharper focus for the shared-use path along that section of Beach Road to make sense.

Selectmen and officials at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission know the shared-use path on a section of Beach Road is not the best situation, but as Bill Veno, a planner with the commission said, they’re attempting to make the best of the situation.

If we could go back in time with what we know today about the Vineyard’s popularity as a tourist destination, and with what we know about sea-level rise, it’s a safe bet that Beach Road wouldn’t be built in the same location, and it absolutely wouldn’t be built the same way. It’s too low and susceptible to flooding. As the recent nor’easter showed, it’s also vulnerable to inundation when there are astronomical high tides.

Clearly, there needs to be some room for compromise on all sides of the Beach Road issue. Name-calling and finger-pointing will do little to address what many would say is one of Vineyard Haven’s most pressing issues.

Moving forward, let’s keep the rhetoric to a minimum, and find a solution that everyone can live with, even if it’s not ideal. We know selectman Tristan Israel would like to see the road project in his lifetime, but the town is in the driver’s seat, and should proceed with caution.