Bucking the advice of traffic and planning experts, Oak Bluffs selectmen this week voted to abandon all efforts to design and construct a roundabout at one of the Vineyard's most dangerous intersections.
The split decision from the board - a 3-2 vote - came just one month after selectmen reaffirmed their commitment to build a roundabout at the heavily trafficked junction of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and Barnes Roads.
While the plan to build a roundabout, a smaller-scale, single-lane version of a traffic rotary, enjoyed support from planners at the Martha's Vineyard Commission, the county engineer and the town highway superintendent, vocal protests from Oak Bluffs residents and other Islanders clearly played a role in the board's reversal.
"I haven't found one person who supports it," said selectman Michael Dutton, who called for a motion to revisit the earlier board action that awarded a design contract for the roundabout to a Stoneham engineering firm.
Both Mr. Dutton and Oak Bluffs selectman Richard Combra argued to scuttle the roundabout plan in favor of an Islandwide approach to traffic congestion.
"Discussion has focused on this one intersection and not enough on how it would affect other intersections," Mr. Dutton said. "We're trying to do this in a vacuum."
In Mr. Combra's view, a roundabout could impact other traffic hot spots on the Vineyard such as the Triangle on Upper Main street in Edgartown and the Five Corners logjam in Vineyard Haven.
"I'd prefer to invest Oak Bluffs money with other towns to look at other problem areas," Mr. Combra said.
Tuesday's decision means the town is parting with a $330,000 state highway grant that would have paid for construction. The action also means that Oak Bluffs taxpayers won't have to spend roughly $40,000 to design the traffic circle.
For now, selectmen are sticking with the solution implemented 15 months ago, a four-way stop that police have credited with significantly reducing accidents at what was once known simply as the blinker light intersection.
The two dissenting selectmen in this week's action - board chairman Roger Wey and Greg Coogan - pushed for a compromise, asking fellow selectmen to support an initial design of the roundabout before deciding to kill the plan.
"At 25 per cent completion of the design work, we'd have a public hearing and at that time, this can be stopped," said Mr. Wey, reminding his board of the support from experts.
Mr. Coogan was even more adamant, telling fellow selectmen that their concerns about the roundabout's potential impact on other areas of the Vineyard were not realistic.
"Traffic problems at the Triangle, at State Road, those just cloud the issue," he said. "It's a real problem to think we can solve Five Corners.
"The roundabout is a problem that Oak Bluffs has to face," he continued.
Mr. Coogan pointed out that the Island's joint transportation committee had already earmarked funds to pay for the job.
"That's a regional body that said take the money and spend it," he said. "Let's draw it and see what it looks like."
Town administrator Casey Sharpe then explained that the contract with Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. in Stoneham would not allow the town to stop design work after the 25 per cent phase and then simply pay the firm a fourth of the fee, about $10,000.
Selectman Kerry Scott, who has criticized the roundabout project since she was elected to the board last spring, hammered at the same theme she has raised in the past.
"The four-way stop is cheap, and it's worked," she said flatly.
Ms. Scott also visited roundabouts in Duxbury and Marstons Mills and returned to Oak Bluffs selectmen with some stinging critiques about how they failed to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.
Indeed, much of the opposition selectmen heard last month centered on how a roundabout could endanger cyclists and walkers trying to cross the intersection.
Four years ago, as the number of accidents at the intersection continued to increase, selectmen commissioned a traffic study, which measured upwards of 20,000 vehicles a day, and 1,500 an hour, passing through the intersection in the summer.
The study recommended two remedies aimed at safety. The preferred solution would have been an Island first, a full-fledged traffic light.
Oak Bluffs police and some selectmen initially embraced the traffic light idea, but sensing opposition from Vineyard traditionalists the board later voted for what they believed was the more palatable fix, a roundabout.
Lacking funds to pay for its design and construction but worried about the ever-present dangers at the crossroads, selectmen opted for a four-way stop last year. Controversial at first, four stop signs in place of a flashing yellow beacon created traffic jams in the summer months along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road but dramatically improved safety, Oak Bluffs police said.
Earlier this year, Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. announced that money was available to build the roundabout and asked selectmen to renew their commitment to building it.
Steve Berlucchi, the county engineer, and Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, spoke in favor of the plan, urging selectmen and residents to understand the differences between a roundabout and the rotaries familiar to motorists traveling off Cape Cod. Mr. Berlucchi said increasing traffic levels on the Island will render the four-way stop obsolete.
"The objections people are raising don't make any sense to me," Mr. Coogan said this week, pointing to the support for the project from the planners. "They see it as a regional solution."
As for the potential impact of a roundabout on other infamous intersections on the Island, Mr. Coogan was equally skeptical. "The same number of cars go down that road," he said. "They're not going to change even if you had a border control strip search there."