With no apparent notice to the town, state highway officials have replaced a wooden guard rail with a metal one along one side of the Mill River Ford bridge in North Tisbury — and the West Tisbury selectmen are unhappy about it.
Selectmen said at their meeting this week they will ask state highway officials to hold off on further work on the bridge until there is further discussion.
“We need to get them to slow down a little bit and at least have an audience where we can talk about our concerns,” said selectman and board chairman Cynthia Mitchell said. “We want to talk to them before they go any further.”
The bridge spans a part of the Mill Brook near the beginning of North Road. On Sept. 26 a pickup truck went through the wooden rail on one side of the bridge in a one-car accident, town police records show. A short time later the state highway department replaced the railing with the metal guard rail. The town was not notified, selectman Richard Knabel said.
At the meeting Wednesday selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd said the town needs to preserve its unique rural qualities before it “all erodes away.”
“The bridge is picturesque . . . to take away something that’s so important to town as a whole, you start taking away little things here and there and put it all together and it’s a fairly big change in our community,” he said. “Eventually we will be no different than any other town. It’s important to preserve our uniqueness, character and charm.”
He said the wooden rails have never been a safety issue and the problem lies with the narrow width of bridge.
West Tisbury resident Phyllis Meras also voiced her concern.
“It’s a pity that something that is relatively attractive and of some historic significance is going to be destroyed,” she said.
Mr. Knabel said the state department of transportation developed plans five years ago to replace the bridge by widening it and including a bike path. At the time the state wanted to replace the wood railings with metal ones, and the town told them it was “not in keeping with what the Island rural roads should look like,” Mr. Knabel said. “They agreed with us and went back and changed the rails to include wood posts with wooden rails, very beefy construction, but nothing like what they put there now.”
He said the town has not heard from the state since then.
Mr. Knabel said he would like to see the Martha’s Vineyard Commission consider an Island-wide historic district of sorts to ensure the towns receive money for maintaining rural roads.
The board directed town administrator Jennifer Rand to contact state highway officials and request a meeting.
In other business, the selectmen discussed temporary changes in the Vineyard Transit Authority bus schedule in the center of town. Beginning this week through April 26, the bus stop across from Alley’s General Store will move to the town hall. The move comes as construction begins on the new town library.