Against a backdrop of increasing doubt, state highway officials this week promised to complete temporary repairs to the Lagoon Pond drawbridge in time for summer boat traffic.
Plans are under way to fix the hardware that opens and closes the highly-trafficked drawbridge that connects Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, but at least one selectman and the bridge's own caretaker reacted this week with skepticism.
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said Tuesday night at the board's weekly meeting that he harbors serious doubts that the bridge can be repaired in time.
"We've been stonewalled to find out what is going on," he told fellow board members.
Bridge tender Robert Maciel was even more emphatic.
"I am very skeptical that they know what they are doing," he said. "It surprises me. They haven't started doing anything to it. They were to replace 52 bolts before they run the bridge, and they haven't done a thing."
Yesterday, Erik Abell, a spokesman from Massachusetts Highway Department, said inspectors visited the drawbridge on Monday to come up with a process for conducting significant repairs. The bridge was reduced to one lane of traffic while the inspection was done.
Engineers are looking to secure bolts to stabilize the machinery that raises and lowers the bridge, he said.
"They have a couple of proposals that they have sent to Mass Highway in Boston. It is being reviewed. Our intent is to have it up and running for the summer season," Mr. Abell said.
The bridge is already slated for a temporary, $3.5 million replacement with construction scheduled to start in the fall.
"The bridge is in dire straits and it is beyond its serviceable life; which essentially means we can't fix it," Mr. Abell said.
Plans for a temporary bridge, instead of a permanent one, have continued to come under sharp criticism on the Vineyard.
Mr. Israel said this week that he believed the town of Oak Bluffs and Tisbury should revisit the idea of building a permanent bridge and steer clear of the concept of building a temporary structure spanning the Lagoon Pond opening.
But the state highway agency is not budging from its commitment to build a temporary bridge first. Mr. Abell said the state is 75 per cent through the design process.
Repeating earlier criticisms, Mr. Israel said Tuesday night he thought the building of a temporary bridge was a waste of taxpayer money.
Yesterday, Tisbury selectman Ray LaPorte said: "In my home town of Lowell, the temporary bridge is 20 years old, so in this case linking any temporary bridge to a permanent solution is essential."
Mr. LaPorte is critical of the Massachusetts Highway Department and its efforts. "I generally think MassHighway likes to work in a vacuum. They are engineers and they think the solution is in engineering instead of a community based solution."
"That bridge is a vital link between up and down-Island services, particularly the hospital. If it was a bridge to no where, we wouldn't care. But it is a vital link. Mass Highway doesn't get it," he continued.
Meanwhile, the functionality of the drawbridge is only worsening. Mr. Maciel, who has operated the bridge for 23 years, said the last time the bridge was raised was two months ago shortly after a street sweeper accidentally dumped sand onto the gears underneath.
"I called the state. They came down and raised the bridge and pressure cleaned all the sand out of the gears," Mr. Maciel said.
Fred LaPiana, director of the Tisbury Department of Public Works, said yesterday that state officials informed him in December that a significant amount of work had to be done to make the bridge operational.
"They had every intention of following through with that effort," he said. "But that was back in December."
Tisbury selectmen discussed getting state representative Eric Turkington and Senator Robert O'Leary more involved.
"I think the board of selectmen's approach to get legislators involved to expedite the process is a good thing," said Mr. LaPiana.
Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London said this week the Lagoon Pond drawbridge committee remains optimistic that the repairs will be completed in time for the bridge to function this coming summer.
"I don't think we should necessarily panic and attack MassHighway at every turn," said Mr. London. "Of course they are going to open it. As a community, I think our attitude should be a little more generous.
"I know they [Mass Highway] are behind schedule, but if they haven't made enough progress by the end of March, then we'll rattle the cages. But I think we've got to give them a little time to do their technical work."