Woods Hole never witnessed a morning quite like July 1, 1995.

Sunrise in the port town revealed a thick trail of overstuffed sedans, wagons, trucks and jeeps snaking its way from standby line at the packed Steamship Authority terminal to the Woods Hole Road and beyond. The standby line itself topped 400 cars; more than 1,000 passengers awaited ferries to begin a four-day holiday weekend.

It was, in a word, gridlock.

By mid-morning, however, it was obvious this was no ordinary holiday crush. Shuttle buses, trying to enter Woods Hole from off-site parking lots, were slowed to a standstill. State police were called for backup. Engines overheated, so did tempers. The standby line, which at one point swelled to 600 cars, was cut off around 9 a.m.; still, some travelers waited 14 hours to take a car to the Island. Travelers swore they would never come to Martha’s Vineyard again.

If you were there, you could understand. In the lengthy history of standby line nightmares, this humid, misty Saturday morning ranked among the worst ever.

The images and tales from July 1 struck a resolute chord with members of the Martha’s Vineyard transportation planning community, who were already deep in the process of addressing traffic problems on the Island. Something had to be done fast, they said, to ensure the Woods Hole crisis never occurred again.

Likewise, the public took an active role in the debate. For years, traffic was a subject of idle cocktail party chatter, viewed widely as an unfortunate side effect to summer life on Martha’s Vineyard. You simply had to deal with it, people said — you couldn’t fix it.

But that is not the case today. Today, traffic — in Woods Hole, Five Corners, the Edgartown Triangle and every other place — is regarded as Vineyard public enemy number one.

Wood Hole on July 1 didn’t mark the start of traffic awareness on Martha’s Vineyard; local wheels were already spinning, hoping to find answers. Late last year, the Steamship Authority, with technical support from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, launched a traffic task force, a group of appointed Island officials charged with finding both short- and long-term solutions to the summertime snarls.

From the start, it was obvious that the SSA’s handling of vehicles was the first issue before the task force. While the SSA justifiably maintains it merely provides a means of transport and does not cause Vineyard traffic problems, its contribution to Island roadways is undeniable: In 1994, the boat line transported 400,000 cars and trucks between Woods Hole and the Vineyard, an 800 per cent increase from 1960, when state Rep. Joseph Sylvia proposed a two-lane bridge linking the mainland and the Island.

A bridge isn’t in the future, but almost immediately, the task force made a few minor adjustments to SSA policy, recommending that no cars be transported beyond the final scheduled 11 p.m. In effect, the move ended the SSA’s unofficial practice of running ferries through the night to accommodate the standby line. The boat line took the measure in stride, and only ran ferries beyond its schedule once in 1995 — that’s right, during the Fourth of July weekend.

The task force also strongly recommended lowering parking fees on the mainland; they pointed out that it was cheaper to bring a car to the Vineyard than to leave it in a Falmouth parking lot for an extended period of time. The idea, explained task force member John Abrams, “is to make it less expensive and more attractive to leave your car over there.”

The SSA, led by Vineyard representative Ronald H. Rappaport and new general manager Armand L. Tiberio, was willing to embrace these recommendations and it seemed the summer of 1995 might proceed calmer than usual.

But then, July 1 happened.

“No one anticipated the enormous volume of traffic,” Mr. Rappaport said in the aftermath. “It was unprecedented in the history of the authority and multiples of what we had experienced in prior years....We were plainly overwhelmed by the demand.”

The Woods Hole traffic crisis made big news on the Vineyard and elsewhere. Images of snarled lines of cars were splashed in Boston newspapers and television stations; one mainland paper (mistakenly) reported brawls among customers in shuttle bus lines.

SSA members said a variety of factors contributed to the July 1 mess. Since the July 4 holiday landed on a Tuesday, many travelers wanted to take advantage of the rare four-day vacation, boat line officials maintained. They also pointed to the Vineyard’s growing national popularity and the fact that the holiday weekend coincided with the traditional July 1 turnover day for rental homes.

But sensing a public relations disaster if another Woods Hole crisis occurred, the Steamship Authority swung into action. Less than two weeks after the July 1 crush, boat line management proposed a complete overhaul of the standby policy. They suggested it might be time for SSA vessels to be reservations-only: All automobile owners would have to book spaces for cars in advance, and transportation to the Island would not be guaranteed as in the past.

Public reaction to the reservations-only proposal was mixed. Some Vineyard residents hailed the idea, saying it would eliminate longtime standby line problems. But other parties — particularly the Island business community — argued the reservations-only system would cut a significant portion of the summer market and cripple companies dependent on the tourist industry.

After a series of fall public meetings where the business community strongly opposed the elimination of standby, the SSA agreed to compromise on its reservations-only idea.

In November, the SSA approved a 14-day pilot reservations-only program for summer 1996. The bulk of the trial occurs over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. From June 28 until July 4, SSA vessels will be booked in advance and standby passage for automobiles is not guaranteed to drivers arriving before 2 p.m., as was previously the case. (Other pilot dates are Friday, May 24 through Sunday, May 26; Tuesday, June 18 through Thursday, June 20 and Tuesday, August 13 through Thursday, August 15.)

Besides the standby line, the SSA kept busy with other issues, including parking. The boat line continues to negotiate for another off-site parking lot in the Falmouth area, and on the Vineyard the SSA paid a $10,000 deposit on a 13-acre wedge of land near the blinker on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. If the authority decides to purchase the land, it may be used for staging automobiles and as a hub for Vineyard shuttle buses.

In the final months of 1995, the SSA also began locking horns with Island real estate agents and rental home owners on the issue of advance reservations.

SSA governors charged certain individuals with exploiting the boat line’s ticketing system system by hoarding reservations for rental clients and even turning slight profits by waiting in line for want-to-be ticket-holders.

For their part, real estate agents said what they were doing was perfectly legal under the system, and the boat line was scapegoating agencies to deflect attention from its problematic reservations system.

By year’s end, the SSA made a few changes to its system, namely eliminating the use of “proxies” to buy tickets for other people. And with that maneuver came a promise for stronger measures — perhaps a move making all SSA tickets non-transferable, Mr. Rappaport said.

But the efforts to help ease Vineyard traffic and woes did not stop with the SSA. The task force paid an independent consultant, Catherine Donaher and Associates, to investigate current Island traffic conditions and possible solutions.

The consultant’s final report, released just before Christmas, said if Vineyard traffic was not addressed, it could spiral out of control because of population growth and summer crowding. Among the report’s many suggestions was a fully integrated on-Island public transportation system, including express buses, inter-town shuttles and water taxis.

It is uncertain what impact the traffic study will have; already, certain groups are criticizing the Donaher report’s conclusions.

But the report’s conclusion, like many of the traffic planning developments in 1995, indicated hope for the Island:

“Martha’s Vineyard will not become a transit haven overnight or even in a year, but by setting a course and progressing step to step...the community of Martha’s Vineyard is at a crucial moment when it can take positive action to define itself and preserve the Island’s way of life.”