The shared-use path (SUP) proposed now under construction (and delay) by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven should be a cautionary tale for Oak Bluffs. The first phase of the Oak Bluffs project is designed to go from Lagoon Pond Drawbridge to the intersection of County and Eastville Avenue, with the idea of eventually having it go through downtown Oak Bluffs and connect to the existing SUP that leads to Edgartown.
No one fully did their homework on the SUP in Vineyard Haven, and now it’s a mess. It turns out there are water and sewer lines that will be costly to move in the way of the construction. In meetings closed to public access — even though they’re talking about millions of dollars in taxpayer money — officials from MassDOT and the town point fingers at each other. (We’ve asked for access to these meetings, and been told they’re not public.)
This should give Oak Bluffs pause.
MassDOT didn’t do its homework in the design of the Vineyard Haven SUP, and relied on town data that were faulty.
Beyond that, the entire project has significant flaws. It never addresses the real issue with Beach Road. It’s too low. The drainage is hopelessly overwhelmed, to the point where the Citgo gas station at XtraMart had to go to state environmental regulators and the town with an elaborate plan to bypass Beach Road stormwater drains to pump clean groundwater into the harbor as part of a plan to upgrade the station’s underground tanks.
The problems with Beach Road won’t be fixed by the project currently stalled in Vineyard Haven. That alone should require the state to pull the plug on it.
Back to Oak Bluffs. MassDOT held one public hearing on its proposal that we know of in 2019. One two-hour public hearing on a project of this magnitude hardly seems like enough. The MVC has now held five sessions on a playing field project at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and has at least a sixth one — and we hope final one — planned.
At that single public hearing in 2019, the state brought attractive conceptual photos of the designs, but again no plans to deal with the road’s perilously low-lying areas on the route. And there was no talk of land takings at that meeting. Wouldn’t want to spoil everyone’s excitement about the idea of bicycle and pedestrian travel between the two port towns by talking about the dirty little details of taking people’s property, cutting down trees that buffer them from the passing traffic, and doing little to improve the overall safety of the road.
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s support of this project makes us scratch our heads, too.
The commission has been beating the drum for the Island to become more aware of the effects of climate change and sea level rise, to the point of appointing a task force and hiring one of the Island’s pre-eminent voices on the challenges facing us — Liz Durkee as a climate change planner. To press forward with a SUP plan that doesn’t begin to address the problems with Beach Road is a waste of resources. In essence, they’ll be spending millions to build an SUP that at some point in the not-too-distant future will have to be ripped up to make way for changes in the road design because of inundation. We already see it every time there’s a coastal storm.
The Oak Bluffs project has to go before town meeting later this spring because some of the land being taken is town land. That’s a good opportunity for the taxpayers to put their collective feet down and insist that the state address this flawed plan.
Things may be too far down the road in Vineyard Haven (although it appears that the state and town are at an impasse over moving the sewer lines), but it’s not too late for Oak Bluffs to get it right.
If you’re looking for a temporary fix, which anything short of re-engineering and raising Beach Road would be, the state and commission should look at bike lanes along the route that would improve safety until a more permanent fix can be made.