Lagoon Drawbridge Replacement Work Begins Early 2007


The first phase of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge replacement project - the construction of a temporary bridge on the pond side of the span - is now slated to begin in the new year rather than this fall as planned.

Word came Wednesday during a public meeting at the Martha's Vineyard Commission. Called to discuss the design process for the bridge's permanent replacement, the meeting ranged across a number of related issues - including the temporary bridge, which has been a subject of concern for Vineyarders since the project's earliest days.

Steve McLaughlin, chief engineer and project manager for MassHighway, said that the state highway agency published its request for proposals for the temporary bridge last Saturday, and will keep the bid period open until Nov. 21. He added that the winning bid would not be awarded to a contractor until January, after which time work will begin.

The news came as somewhat of a surprise to members of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge committee, the regional advocacy group that has been charged with providing recommendations to the state. Committee members had been under the impression that construction of the temporary bridge would begin this fall.

"We always thought that the November date was for the start of construction, but there was obviously a miscommunication," committee chairman Melinda Loberg said yesterday. "What it does is push back any work in the water until after April 15 because of state fisheries regulations, but the state has said they are still on track to get the temporary bridge up by next summer.

"We are talking about a month, really, so we are not looking at this as a major setback or delay at this time," she added.

The regulations, imposed by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, prohibit any work in the water between Jan. 1 and April 15 because of the spawning season of summer flounder - meaning that pilings cannot be installed until the spring.

Estimated costs for both bridges also have changed - rising to about $6.5 million for the temporary bridge and $25 million for the permanent replacement. Mr. McLaughlin attributed the change to the rising costs of materials, but said the state has earmarked enough money to cover further increases.

The drawbridge, which was built in 1935, is a vital link in the Vineyard road system, providing critical access to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital and connecting Oak Bluffs and Tisbury. Since discussion about a replacement began several years ago, state highway officials have pushed the long-term plan for a two-bridge solution. The temporary bridge will be built alongside the existing bridge, while it is demolished and replaced. Construction is expected to run through 2013.

On Wednesday, more than a dozen residents turned out for the latest update on the project. With Mr. McLaughlin was Peter Donohue, senior project manager for Parsons Transportation Group, which earlier this summer was awarded the job of designing the permanent bridge; there is, however, still no contract between the firm and the state.

Mr. Donohue and Mr. McLaughlin took turns explaining the design process for the permanent bridge, which Mr. McLaughlin said may take about two years.

Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Donohue also outlined the issues that need to be resolved in the coming months - namely the vertical height of the permanent bridge. The Parsons group has recommended increasing the height by four feet, but suggested getting community consensus first.

"Four feet is probably optimal height," Mr. Donohue said. "Anything else and we may run into problems with the walls on the sides with greater impacts."

Mr. Donohue also addressed other areas of concern, including the channel alignment, the width of the new bridge and a proposed bike path across the span. Audience members raised their concerns, which ranged from whether to have a single or double bascule (a device balanced so that when one end is lowered the other is raised, thus opening the bridge) to the hours of construction.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on these and any other concerns about the design of the permanent bridge in the coming months.

Mr. McLaughlin said the state will meet quarterly with the drawbridge committee and will release a marine clearance and opening study, followed by a bridge type study that will include a public hearing. This will all take place before the state reaches the 25 per cent design stage for the permanent bridge, at which point changes to the design become harder to make.

"There are still many opportunities for public input, but they should voice their concerns at any time if they have them," Ms. Loberg said. "There are still a lot of issues to talk about."