While the proposed Oak Bluffs roundabout has received most of the press, Tisbury is quietly moving forward with another long-planned major traffic management infrastructure project: a proposed system of connector roads that would link Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road to State Road and bypass the summer crush in Vineyard Haven. But unlike the roundabout, the state hasn’t been forthcoming with money for the proposed $3 million project. Now it’s up to voters to decide whether to build the connector system.
“It would solve the congestion problem at that intersection,” said department of public works director Fred LaPiana.
Starting as one road near the Edgartown National Bank on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, the new road will fork into two roads, traversing an unattractive backlot stretch of mostly town-owned land, past capped landfills, the sewage treatment facility and the town Park and Ride, emerging at State Road via High Point Lane and Holmes Hole Road.
Mr. LaPiana says that when work on the High Point and Holmes Hole Roads are close to completion, the town hopes to begin work on a third outlet to State Road via Evelyn Way.
Planners hope the new roads will alleviate congestion at the treacherous and logjammed intersection at State Road.
“It’s basically a failed intersection in the summer,” said Mr. LaPiana. “The waits are tremendously long and people are idling their cars there for a long time. There’s no traffic control at that intersection, and everyone of course relies on the courteous behavior of drivers to get through it. In the summer sometimes we’re not good at that.”
The idea of connector roads dates back to at least 2003, when the Martha’s Vineyard Commission floated the proposal as part of its regional transportation plan. Tisbury voters approved designs for connector roads in 2005 and again in 2010, but the town has come up empty in two rounds of state infrastructure funding.
“I told the town I’d go up to the state for two years trying to get that money through the programs they have available and the third year we’d bring it to town floor if we were unsuccessful, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Mr. LaPiana. He said the town failed to attract funding despite enthusiastic lobbying by Cape and Islands Rep. Tim Madden and state senators Dan Wolf and Rob O’Leary.
Tisbury residents will vote on the plan at the annual town meeting on April 10.
The plan is unanimously endorsed by the town finance committee, and on Thursday committee chairman Larry Gomez was enthusiastic about the project.
“It’s something not only the town needs, it’s something the Island needs,” he said.
But not everyone in town government is thrilled about a the $3 million price tag.
“I understand why they’re putting it on town meeting but I can’t support the article,” said selectman Tristan Israel. “Our town can’t afford to spend that. I know we’ve been trying to get grants and I’m supportive of helping pursue that, but there’s no way that I think I could support $3 million at this point.”
Mr. Israel said that the town’s other prospective capital projects should take priority, in particular, an expansion of the town’s wastewater capacity to alleviate nitrogen problems in Lagoon Pond, as well as renovation work on the town hall.
But Mr. Gomez says that it is not a matter of either/or. The $3 million project would not take away from efforts to fund other town projects, he says, and its impact on the Tisbury taxpayer would be “nominal.” As part of the construction of the connector roads, the town also plans to run a sewer line to the State Road business district that could help the town address nitrogen loading in the Tashmoo watershed.
Mr. Israel’s fellow selectman, Jeffrey Kristal, supports the project. “I don’t think the Island’s built a new road in 60 years, so we’ve had the same amount of roadway and the traffic’s gone up exponentially,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing . . . This is an infrastructure project that the town has embraced over the past five years.”
The Gazette was unable to reach board of selectmen chairman Geoghan Coogan. At a community forum last month, Mr. Coogan said that the number-one issue facing the town was replacing its town hall.
In 2005, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission issued a report on the connector roads .
Commission senior planner Bill Veno said on Wednesday the report “looked at two connections on upper State Road, and it wasn’t a great deal of an improvement over one connector road, which would just transfer the problem. But we found that if there were three outlets onto upper state road that would greatly improve traffic circulation.”
“The third leg is so small in terms of its value we could do that under state aid,” Mr. LaPiana said. “It’s not really a budgetary issue with that third leg. It’s a property ownership issue that we still have to negotiate.”
In 2005, the commission studied combinations of Holmes Hole Road and Evelyn Way, and High Point lane and Evelyn Way, but not Holmes Hole Road and High Point Lane, as Tisbury has proposed to build in its first phase. With all three connector roads built, though, the commission determined that waits of several minutes at the current State Road intersection would be brought down to 34 seconds. Commission transportation planner Michael Mauro has not analyzed Tisbury’s plan in detail but is supportive of the idea in principle, saying that he thinks it will alleviate traffic.
“I hope this thing gets built,” he said. “I think it would be great and I hope the town gets funding for it.”
Traffic diversion would not be the only consequence of the new infrastructure, according to Mr. LaPiana. Last year the town was turned down for state housing and urban development money to help fund the project. Mr. LaPiana says that while much of the land is off-limits to development as capped landfill, housing is still in the picture.
“It will allow for smart growth in this area in town, which is the other business district in Vineyard Haven,” he said. “There’s not a lot of area to develop, but there’s enough that can be done to make this industrial area more of a mixed use community area inviting to a large cross section of our community.”
When asked whether the connector roads would have any impact on traffic at the roundabout, Mr. LaPiana laughed.
“I don’t even want to wade into the roundabout talk,” he said.