Revised plans to replace the storied Big and Little Bridges along Beach Road in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs were unveiled this week, and Massachusetts highway officials say they are confident the design will fit the character of the Vineyard.

County engineer Steve Berlucchi presented the plans to Edgartown selectmen at their regular meeting Tuesday afternoon.

"I think we have a much better design that Island residents will appreciate," Mr. Berlucchi said. "Everybody who has seen it so far is on board."

The new plans come almost two years after state highway officials presented their initial outline to rebuild the structures. At the time the design called for two all-concrete bridges, and public reaction was sharply critical.

"This type of bridge belongs on the Massachusetts Turnpike, not on Beach Road," Mr. Berlucchi said during the hearing in February of 2003. Many other residents agreed.

But on Tuesday, the Edgartown selectmen, the first town officials to see the new plans, praised the state's latest offering.

"I think we have a great design," selectman Arthur Smadbeck said before the board approved a motion to support the proposal.

The bridge plan now calls for the addition of wood platforms and railings, aesthetic measures aimed at retaining the character of the current bridges. More platform space was added for pedestrians on the Big Bridge, including 15 feet for fishermen. A separate eight-foot bicycle lane was also added.

"We have a consensus in Edgartown and people seem pleased with the redesign," Mr. Berlucchi said. "It's more in line with our wishes."

"From the town's standpoint, all parties concerned are satisfied," agreed town administrator Peter O. Bettencourt. "The shellfish warden, the selectmen, people I have spoken with in Edgartown certainly support the new design."

The project qualifies for the transportation improvement program, a state program that secures blocks of federal funding to upgrade roads, Mr. Berlucchi said. The bridge plan needs federal approval by September 2005 to receive the grant money.

"That means 100 per cent of the plan - all the specs and estimates - must be submitted by then," he said. "Right now, we are at about 25 per cent."

Mr. Berlucchi said he expected the state would put the plan out to bid next winter at the very earliest, and he said the project will take about two years to complete. Given the status of Beach Road as a critical artery between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, one lane will remain open on each bridge throughout the off-season. The state plans to suspend all construction from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A divider will link the old bridge with the new construction.

"The state originally wanted to shut the whole road down for eight months and rebuild them then," Mr. Berlucchi said. "But there are just too many concerns about emergency access to the beaches and pond. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown agreed it's just not feasible."

The bridges, just a mile apart, are both over 70 years old.

The Big Bridge, also known as the American Legion Memorial Bridge, is 241 feet long and has a roadway 30 feet wide. It was built in 1932.

The Little Bridge, or the VFW Memorial Bridge, is 60 feet long and was built four years later. Both structures were partially reconstructed in 1953 and again in 1988.

State engineers say both bridges are structurally deficient and are high on the priority list for replacement. Support is the main issue, and buttressing the bridge using concrete is imperative, engineers say. Precast concrete box beams and supports are planned to replace the 100-plus wooden pilings currently supporting the Big Bridge.

"The advantages to concrete supports are numerous," Mr. Berlucchi said. "Perhaps most importantly, the concrete supports last longer than wooden supports. There is much less deterioration. Right now, the problem is occurring at the mud line. Concrete will solve that problem."

But there are other advantages, he said. With fewer supports, wide swaths will allow boats to navigate in and out of Sengekontacket Pond easily. The new design will also help the tidal flow and contribute to better circulation in the pond.

Critics say concrete will dramatically change the look of the bridges, which are important elements of the Beach Road landscape. They are well-known spots for fishermen, and every summer, kids of all ages line up to take their turn jumping off the Big Bridge into the channel. Some residents worry the new look won't fit into the Vineyard aesthetic, but Mr. Berlucchi is confident that won't happen.

"The public will have many more opportunities to voice their concerns," he said. "We still have a ways to go."

Mr. Berlucchi will present the new design to Oak Bluffs selectmen on Tuesday and hopes to do the same for the Dukes County Commission sometime next month. He also expects another Islandwide public hearing in the future, and comment from the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

"We're going to make sure to get everyone's input and participation," he said.