The state is developing ways to improve traffic and climate resiliency along a major artery in Tisbury.
Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and consultants presented the current state of Five Corners and Beach Road as a part of the “Martha’s Vineyard Beach Road Study” during the study’s first public information meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Wednesday’s discussion focused on the existing conditions, and the needs of a section of town that is often congested with traffic, and which experiences frequent flooding. The state is expected to present options for improvements in the spring.
“Designs we produce will be conceptual, and further developed if this advances to an implemented project,” Patrick Snyder, the project manager from MassDOT, said.
MassDOT has already held two meetings with a working group, which included Tisbury officials, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and the Steamship Authority. Those meetings and documents can be viewed at bit.ly/4a8MdiO. The state launched the study over the summer.
Water Street, Lagoon Pond Road, and Beach Street Extension are all part of the study. “These roads form thoroughfares that are integral to transportation on Martha’s Vineyard,” Snyder said.
The study map also shows abutting properties that need to be taken into consideration for the project, such as the area around the Steamship Authority’s Vineyard Haven Terminal.
Joe Zissman, a planning project manager from transportation consultancy firm Cambridge Systematics, said the study team has collected information through a camera overlooking Five Corners to observe traffic patterns; they also conducted a site visit to Vineyard Haven in August.
Aside from vehicle traffic, the team noted a large volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic. “It is not only a tourist attraction but also a village center and a business hub,” Zissman said.
For pedestrians, Five Corners can be risky. Zissman said sidewalks and curb ramps in the area are narrow, and sometimes obstructed with poles, and the brick sidewalks are sometimes uneven, and make it difficult for individuals with mobility problems. Additionally, crosswalks and ramps are not perpendicular to the road, and aren’t marked for accessibility. There are also no pedestrian flashers in the Five Corners area, and Zissman pointed out that lighting is generally poor.
While there is a “robust” bicycle path network, Zissman said, there are gaps. “No bicycle lanes pass through Five Corners, and no bicycle lanes exist on Beach Street or Beach Road west of the Lagoon Pond Bridge,” he said.
Five Corners meets minimum sightline standards except for one area, which is the right turn from Lagoon Pond Road to Beach Road. Zissman said this tight turn is obstructed by the bicycle rental shop.
Another area of concern is the route between Water Street and Beach Street for buses and semitrailer trucks that require wide turns, which Zissman said is too tight.
“We have observed these vehicles mounting the sidewalk in some cases, a dangerous situation for pedestrians,” Zissman said. “We have observed many instances of buses and trucks … crossing the double yellow line to make a turn. This has resulted in cars reversing away from stop lines to accommodate a large vehicle.”
There were also noticeable clusters where crashes occurred on several sections near Five Corners, and on a part of Beach Road. For the Beach Road crash cluster, Zissman said a contributing factor could be the drivers speeding up when entering Beach Road (30 mph speed limit) from Beach Street (20 mph speed limit).
The team also shared data of which direction vehicles turned, based on a 2013 MassDOT roadway safety audit.
The informal nature of how Five Corners operates means good sightlines and awareness are necessary.
“There were, at times, notable confusion about the right of way proceeding through the intersection,” Snyder said.
As for flooding, most of the study area was vulnerable to tidal flooding and coastal storms because of its low elevation. Rising seas will likely make flooding worse. Zissman showed a map displaying that large swaths of the study area, including Five Corners, are expected to be at sea level by 2050. A main drainage outfall at the foot of Beach Street Extension faces regular blockage because of debris, compounding the problem.
“The range of sea level rise in Vineyard Haven is somewhat wide, but at least one foot of sea level rise is expected as time progresses,” Snyder said. “On top of this baseline rise, storms are expected to increase in severity, with more intense and more frequent flooding.”
During the meeting, time was reserved for public comment. The comments focused on requests to MassDOT and the consultants to look at certain documents and studies, environmental concerns, further queries about flooding, and questions regarding potential options for the area — like a roundabout. Although these potential options didn’t get direct answers because of the stage the project was in, MassDOT staff and the consultants said they would look at the possibilities.
Written public comments can be sent to MassDOT. Email comments to email@example.com. Written comments can also be sent to MassDOT, at Office of Transportation Planning, MassDOT, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 4150, Boston, MA 02116, Attention: Multimodal Planning.
For next steps, MassDOT will be developing three “conceptual design alternatives” that will provide detailed designs for a potential project, cost estimates, and an evaluation of how to minimize impact to residents nearby.
Another working-group meeting and a public meeting are planned to take place this upcoming winter.
A final report and recommendations will be presented in the spring of 2024.