Power failure to blame for Lagoon drawbridge malfunction

The drawbridge stuck in the upright position - Eunki Seonwoo, MV Times

Updated June 5

The drawbridge over the entrance into the Lagoon in Vineyard Haven was stuck in the open position for around five hours Friday, causing serious traffic congestion throughout Tisbury into the evening. 

Around 3:30 pm Friday, the drawbridge went up to let a boat through, and was unable to go back down due to a power failure.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation sent an electrician to the scene, who was able to lower the bridge. It was open to vehicular traffic at 8:48 pm. 

A spokesperson for the state agency said that they determined the failure to be an electrical problem in the bridge’s control panel.

Local law enforcement urged drivers to avoid the area and seek alternative routes for the time being.

“Standard temporary traffic control measures are in place including a local police detail to help direct traffic,” MassDOT said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Drivers who are traveling near the affected areas should expect delays, reduce speed, and use caution.”

Hospital officials said at the time that they did not expect the bridge breakdown to impact their operations. Emergency personnel can access the hospital with alternate routes.


    • Albert– sometimes you should think before you hit the “post comment” button.
      Just about every “stinkpot” can get under the bridge– It’s the boats with sails that can’t.

  1. In my many years working in construction, I have noticed that engineers have a tendency to make things as complicated as possible so as to whatever the end product is it is very expensive.
    In my 36 years in construction, I have never seen a $35 Schlage door knob fail.
    I cannot say the same about the $500 Baldwin locks.
    It is apparent to me, just noting the system on this bridge for putting the gates down and retracting them, that the engineers were working overtime to make the system as complicated as possibe, at the highest expense possible, with the most likely scenario of failure as possible.
    How about a single freaking gate on either side of the bridge that go up and down together in about 45 seconds as opposed to multiple gates not moving until the redundant gate is completely locked in place while we sit and watch the show for literally 3 minutes.
    I mean really, if someone wants to drive around all those gates in the hope of getting a Darwin award, let them do it.
    So it is likely that the engineers created the most complicated , most unreliable and most expensive system imaginable to raise and lower the bridge.
    If they created a Rube Goldberg machine that we can see, why would anyone assume the things we can’t see are less complicated?
    I’m not surprised that this bridge has failed so soon after completion. After all. it cost $52 MILLION dollars to span 350 ft. Or $150,000 per foot .
    Why wouldn’t it fail ?

    • Defective by Design
      Unfortunately, the drawbridge gates are only continuing on a path of failures to operate. When the gates were being installed I happened to meet and have a conversation with the electrician who installed them. Subsequently, my good friend Bruce Rohr, son of Bob Rohr from the island and also founder of Cambridge Technologies predicted the breakdowns would occur after a period of time. We are well beyond that point.

      The installer told me the story of why they will fail. Bruce confirmed it and added to it and in fact, they now require twice the maintenance of a normal gate fail at times, and require two people to operate and take forever for it to go through a cycle.

      Mass DOT and a committee from Tisbury decided on the design. The committee wanted the gates to be hidden. Mass DOT allowed it and looked for an engineer. They hired, according to John who installed them, a firm, and paid it $1.2 million dollars. But they came up empty after several years of effort or lack of effort and the money was wasted.

      A second engineer was hired according to what I was told. This new engineer worked in switches and relays and knew nothing about cell phones or computers and was in his 80’s. Bruce informed me that switches and relays are not recommended for saltwater environments. And in fact, all of them are contained in hermetically sealed boxes and there are a lot of them – two boxes in two levels at the house, and also at each station.

      It gets worse but I will skip ahead for the sake of brevity.

      A couple of months ago I met with Jay Grande at his office for about an hour. Jay is familiar, very, with the issue. We agreed that an article would be on the select board next meeting to request Mass DOT to replace them. I was told it would be on the agenda. Subsequently Jay went to the Fire Chief, Police Chief and Harbormaster and asked them if it affected them. They all said no, and so Jay successfully sabotaged the request to remove and replace the gates. I was furious and emailed him and asked him to resign for his actions.

      Jay retires in a year. It was my reaction to his playing fast and loose with our safety and of the lack of efficiency easily resolved. They will continue to deteriorate. Perhaps now we can replace them. This is the only one of its kind in the world. There is one other receding gate somewhere, I did not get the location, Mass DOT reportedly tried to copy their engineering but they were not interested in supplying their technology. And so there you have it.

    • It is always fun to hear from a person who has no idea of how to engineer a bridge criticize bridge engineering.

      How about building a bridge to minimize the opportunity for human death?

    • Don, as a law abiding Patriotic Citizen I hope that you would never break the law by going around a stop gate.
      And report anyone you see doing so.
      If you see something, say something.
      Only then can we be free.

  2. If only I’d got my Minute *before* I tried to get from WT to OB via VH @ around 4:30! OTOH, going down-island late on a Friday afternoon between Memorial Day and Labor Day is stupid even if the bridge is working, so — my bad. Won’t get fooled again . . . till next year.

  3. Once again Keller’s wisdom gets it right. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head. 😉

  4. Okay, I have to weigh in with my “historical “ perspective. Perhaps we needed this new bridge and perhaps not, but it’s way too late to comment on that now. However, in all my years living here, basically all of my life, the old bridge never did this to us. It went up, it came down. Perhaps all this recent work to correct the older recent work has something to do with it?

    • I’m a relative newcomer to these shores, but the old bridge stuck itself up at least once under my watch.

    • Gayle– I have lived here for 36 years.
      The last few years of the old bridge were plagued with closing problems.
      As I recall, in the summer, on hot days the bridge would expand and not allow it to fully close.
      They did a number of repairs on it, but after 78 years, it was time for a new one– it had other problems also, but I have to say that the wooden pilings had the best mussel farm on the Vineyard.
      But one thing I don’t understand was the rush to dismantle the temporary bridge so quickly. It seemed to work well, and we likely could have gotten 25 or 30 years out of it.

  5. You knew the bridge needed to be replaced.
    Did you offer to engineer a new one?
    What were your cost estimates?
    Would your design keep people from driving around the stop gates?

  6. To the Editor

    I do hope you print my comment. It is important. My friend Bruce Rohr, a prominent scientist and electrical engineer, revealed to me that the switches and relays break down in salt water environments over time. This has been happening. If you do not print my comment I will make sure it is known by other means – but you are a newspaper with a responsibility to the safety of the public. So I ask you, either print my comment or do an article and do your own research starting with the bridgetenders.

    The Gazette already made everything disappear.

    Thank you,

    Frank Brunelle
    508 221 7618

    • Relays and switches are common on salt water boats.
      There isn’t much that doesn’t breakdown in salt water over time.

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