SSA terminal creates serious concerns

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To the Editor:

This letter is to express my great concern about what are several very serious and complicated situations associated with the Steamship Authority’s (SSA) landside construction project in Woods Hole. 

The first is the ever-increasing number of traffic backups onto Woods Hole Road due to SSA terminal–headed traffic. One backup took many hours to resolve, and involved more than a hundred cars, almost all of which were heading to the SSA. The indicator of the serious nature of the jam was its hindering at least one emergency vehicle from gaining access to Woods Hole. 

Another endangerment issue caused by the traffic backup was that several SSA shuttle buses loaded with SSA passengers, to avoid being stuck in traffic, drove into the oncoming traffic lane. This endangered both oncoming traffic and those already stuck in stopped traffic. In response to the action of the SSA shuttles, personal cars did the same, creating a new traffic jam in the oncoming traffic lane. This then led to both lanes of the Crane Bridge being blocked by traffic, all headed onto the SSA property. Simultaneously, other frustrated drivers made three-point turns to head back toward Falmouth. Finally, the SSA-created traffic jam caused people in their cars with reservations for ferries to the Vineyard to miss their scheduled boats. 

These events affect the entire Woods Hole community, its businesses, tourists, SSA passengers, and freight vehicles. 

A second major problem caused by the SSA’s terminal reconstruction project is already apparent. This relates to the terminal’s landside design and loading and unloading of vehicles. If this major problem already exists, how will it be resolved after the new SSA ticketing building is in place? 

Presently, some passenger vehicles and trucks disembarking boats in slips 2 and 3 exit the site via Cowdry Road. However, other vehicles and trucks circle around the south end of the waiting SSA shuttle and commercial buses, and then must make an extremely tight left turn around a SSA ticket shed to exit via Railroad Avenue. Other vehicles and trucks drive directly to Railroad Avenue by driving around the back end of the staged long trucks and buses, and around the north end of the staged SSA shuttle and other buses, and then drive onto Railroad Avenue. 

These modes of departure appear random, because there is no evidence that the SSA is making any attempt to supervise the exiting vehicles. This results in a crunch of vehicles attempting to maneuver a tight turn onto Railroad Avenue. This has serious consequences. First, long trucks cannot safely maneuver this exit. Their activity endangers SSA passengers and locals walking the streets of Woods Hole near and on the SSA property. This uncontrolled traffic also endangers vehicles legally parked on nearby streets, and the large number of local and tourist bicyclists who are coming from or going to the bike path, who must negotiate the SSA exit. The result is vehicles and trucks competing to exit, which creates serious safety issues for pedestrians and property, and also a chaotic situation. 

My observations are not unique. SSA personnel working on site, including several attempting to assist traffic flow, have complained about the lack of management of trucks and vehicles, and the maddening challenges of loading and unloading them, which they see as untenable. Again, it is important to note these serious issues exist now, before the construction of the new and large ticket building. 

If these serious problems exist before the new building is constructed close to the slips, where presently trucks, buses, and vehicles are staged, how will these present problems be prevented or resolved once much more of the existing space is occupied by the new ticket building, with its large footprint and its placement so close to the slips, with additional space being occupied by buses staged next to the building? 

It is extremely frustrating that the SSA has never justified either the ticket building’s large size or its location. All the SSA has stated is, “This is the smallest possible size for the building,” and, “This is the only possible place where it can be located.” There is no evidence that a formal “smallest possible size structure analysis” has been performed. 

The SSA claims it has performed all appropriate traffic circulation modeling, and that this modeling proves that everything will work out fine. Where is the evidence that there will be sufficient space for the safe and fluid movement of vehicles and trucks after the new building is up? What assurances do we have that a good vehicle circulation analysis has been made, and that the site design takes that analysis into consideration? All the SSA has stated is, “We have looked into traffic issues.” This is not reassuring. Has a formal analysis actually been done, and done properly? If the answer is yes, how is it possible that the analysis did not assure effective traffic circulation throughout the construction project, as well as after its completion? 

No information has been presented to make anyone believe that these serious problems will go away once the new ticket building is constructed. 

I strongly recommend the SSA: 

  • Justify fully the size of its proposed new ticket building, which without evidence it claims is “the smallest possible.” This is even though the current, smaller “temporary” ticket building has been serving flawlessly. 
  • Provide a comparative analysis of the location of the new ticketing building, which the SSA claims cannot be located anywhere else where it would be less intrusive on traffic flow. 

The Enabling Act of the SSA calls for its mission to be “in all respects for the benefit of the people of the commonwealth.” The Enabling Act calls for the SSA to be “for the improvement of their health and living conditions.” 

Woods Hole sees little evidence of the SSA fulfilling these obligations in our village. The SSA owes all its port communities a responsibility not to degrade and dismiss our quality of life and public safety.

 

Damien Kuffler
Woods Hole