Utility snafu continues to bog down Beach Road project

Bagged asphalt is applied to patch Beach Road on Feb. 11. — Rich Saltzberg

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation identified drainage “conflicts” in December that have impacted a $4.8 million shared-use path project along Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. The conflicts, which were revealed to be water and sewer lines running in places different from what was allegedly found in plans, were discovered by cutting through the asphalt and digging test pits. The water and sewer lines occupy space where drainage infrastructure is slated for installation. 

“Due to the findings, the designer is working to redesign drainage elements to avoid conflicts with the sewer main, and looking for options to handle the water main conflicts that include relocation of [an] additional water main, along with alterations to the proposed drainage,” MassDOT spokesperson Judith Reardon Riley emailed to The Times. 

MassDOT was not able to say what the true impact of the discovery will be. “The impact to the project’s cost and schedule are unknown at this time,” Reardon Riley wrote. 

However, further eminent domain seemed unlikely. “It is not anticipated that changes will require any additional land takings,” she wrote.  

MassDOT characterized the discovery as less of a surprise than it would appear. “Plans are designed with the best possible historic records, and it is not uncommon that the actual placement of the utilities are as much as a foot off in either direction or depth,” Riley Reardon wrote.

In a brief phone interview with The Times Wednesday, Tisbury select board chair Jim Rogers said, “The whole project is out of control.”

He added, “They don’t tell us much,” though he noted MassDOT has recently indicated plans to share more. Reardon Riley wrote that the meetings will be ongoing. 

“We will continue the biweekly coordination meetings with town staff, and look forward to an expanded dialogue and project updates with the board of selectmen,” she wrote. 

Ralph Packer, a frequent critic of the project, said he thought the project needs to be re-evaluated, as problems are “coming out of the woodwork.” He suggested the Martha’s Vineyard Commission should conduct a review. 

Rogers said he feared unanticipated and unwarranted costs for business owners in the form of water and sewer hookup upgrades. He also said MassDOT needed to better control erosion areas along the project corridor. 

Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande told The Times Wednesday that the town is waiting for test pit data and photography from MassDOT so a town engineer can conduct an evaluation. The MassDOT information would be helpful, Grande noted, in understanding where the utility conflicts exist, and how they may affect the utility connections of local business owners. “We have not received that information yet,” Grande said.

On Feb. 11, MassDOT contractor Lawrence-Lynch Corp. could be seen applying patches along Beach Road with bagged asphalt, including to an oblong hole in front of the Boch park. 

“MassDOT’s contractor was on scene to repair a test pit patch which was damaged due to recent rains,” Reardon Riley wrote. “In addition, the contractor also patched potholes within the limits of the project.”

On Wednesday, the oblong hole had opened up and formed a large pothole.


  1. This project is nuts. It is not true in our case that sewer lines are not according to plans. Both sewer plans and architect plans by Weisman Associates indicate they are precisely where MassDOT Private Engineers staked a spot to plant a huge telephone pole. Any registered surveyor would need to stamp the plan to insure it did not land on top of water or sewer lines. There was little or no caution in these plans. In addition, the location of the pole would block views from our property and our neighbors property. A shade tree marked to be saved is also to be cut down, and is the best tree on Beach Road, but also Mass DOT plans to take away parking for MV Tile business, and the entire garden area will be taken and destroyed. The plan is dangerous and this was noted in the 2009 study. To alleviate cyclists crossing in front of trucks and cars an alternate route was designed. No alternate route will be provided at this point and even if it were it would be inadequate. MV Commission was required to do a study or DRI and refused. The entire project is a fiasco.

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