Despite vocal protests and the lack of even one voice in favor of the project, Oak Bluffs selectmen say they are forging ahead with plans to construct a traffic roundabout at one of the Island's busiest intersections.
A single-lane traffic circle, the roundabout would replace the four-way stop signs installed more than a year ago at the junction between Barnes Road and the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, a major east-west artery.
The four-way stop has drastically reduced the number of accidents at the site, a fact cited by many of the residents and other Islanders who spoke out at Tuesday's meeting of the board of selectmen. More than 20 people attended the meeting.
"Since we've had the four-way stop, I'm not afraid of that intersection," Ann Margetson said.
"I have not dialed 9-1-1 once since the stop signs went in," said Sandra Lippens, whose rental business sits on the northeast corner of the intersection.
Balancing the critics was commentary from county engineer Steve Berlucchi and a traffic planner from Framingham named Bill Scully, hired four years ago by selectmen.
"The roundabout concept has really taken off," Mr. Scully told selectmen. "It would improve operations there dramatically."
Mr. Berlucchi was even more emphatic.
"The four-way stop is not a permanent solution," he said. "We all see the construction going on on the Island [bringing] more traffic, more people, more cars. And the expansion of the airport business park."
Selectmen backed off making any formal recommitment to the roundabout, but they clearly weren't waffling.
"I don't see a huge change in my mind," said selectman Greg Coogan.
"I've quite often heard people saying the stop signs are working, but this is the long-term solution for the intersection," said selectman Richard Combra.
Selectmen are under pressure to hire an engineer to design the roundabout within the next few weeks and tap into $330,000 of state highway funding to proceed with construction.
Four years ago, alarmed at the increasing number of accidents at the crossroads, Oak Bluffs selectmen commissioned a traffic study that recommended two possible solutions: the Island's first traffic signal or a roundabout.
This week, Mr. Scully, whose firm, MS Transportation Systems Inc., conducted that analysis, reminded selectmen that traffic levels measured in 2000 were already high enough to justify a traffic light.
His traffic counters measured upwards of 20,000 vehicles a day, and 1,500 an hour, passing through the intersection in the summer.
While police favored the idea of a traffic light, selectmen balked at the recommendation, concerned it would trigger protests from people who viewed a traffic signal as too suburban for the Island.
In 2001, selectmen officially threw their support behind a roundabout, but it wasn't until this year that the Island's joint transportation committee earmarked state highway money to pay for the job.
In July, Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. told selectmen that the town would have to pay $25,000 to $50,000 for an engineer to design the roundabout. Then, last month, Mr. Combra asked selectmen to reaffirm their commitment to a traffic circle.
"There's some concern about whether this is the direction the town really wants to go," the highway superintendent said last month.
Tuesday night, Mr. Scully, along with Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake, tried to erase any lingering concerns.
Compared to a traffic light, Mr. Scully said that maintenance and repair costs are less. Roundabouts built recently in Marstons Mills and Yarmouth have been well-received, he said.
Traffic backups at the four-way stop, he argued, add to air pollution as vehicles idle for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Those same backups could also divert traffic onto other Island roadways, creating new traffic problems, he said.
Chief Blake spoke to the safety advantages of a roundabout, which offers only eight potential points of conflict between vehicles, as opposed to 32 points in a normal intersection. All entries and exits on a roundabout are right-hand turns.
Drivers would have to slow their vehicles to about 15 miles an hour to enter the one-lane traffic circle, said Mr. Scully.
The selling points from experts did nothing to quiet roundabout detractors.
Selectman Kerry Scott, the one board member who has opposed the project, visited roundabouts in Duxbury and Marstons Mills and asked Mr. Scully about accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians at those sites.
Mr. Scully said he didn't believe the roundabouts featured modifications for traffic other than vehicular, but he said that the Oak Bluffs project could allow bike and pedestrian crossing areas.
David Whitmon, an avid cyclist and resident of nearby Deer Run housing development, blasted the plans for a roundabout, pleading with selectmen to leave the four-way stop untouched.
"It brings the whole intersection to a dead stop," he said.
Mr. Whitmon then asked selectmen to address a deeper issue, the increase in traffic Islandwide.
"Why are we accommodating more cars? It's a big waste of money," he said. "I'm hoping this board can show some foresight to do something to lessen the amount of cars."
Ms. Lippens said she had gathered a petition signed by more than 500 people opposed to the roundabout.
"Women with baby carriages feel safe to cross there now," she said. "Where are they going to go? Are we turning into Marstons Mills?"
Brian Hughes questioned how safe bike and pedestrian crossings would be in the face of vehicles accelerating as they exited a roundabout. He also argued for the status quo of stop signs.
"Why would we spend all this money on this when what's there works?" he said.
Duncan MacDonald, a resident of Vineyard Haven, told selectmen, "The decision you're making relates to the way of life for all of us who live here."