Boat Line Terminal in Oak Bluffs Awaits Redesign and Overhaul

Gazette Senior Writer

Revised plans for reconstruction of the Steamship Authority terminal in Oak Bluffs were presented to the town's board of selectmen Tuesday.

Steve Cecil of the Cecil Group, one of the designers of the project, said the intent of the proposed reconstruction is to lessen congestion, improve safety, and enhance the appearance of the terminal. The project would cost $10 million, down from the prior estimated cost of about $13 million.

As designed, the project hinges on moving the terminal's office operations across Sea View avenue into the old town hall and demolishing the terminal, as well as the town restrooms now to the north of the terminal building.


An enlarged drop-off and pick-up area would be created on Sea View avenue south of Oak Bluffs avenue, with a more spacious staging area on Sea View north of Oak Bluffs avenue.

More space would be created on the existing pier for vehicles by shifting the pedestrian walkway farther south along the pier's southern edge. The pedestrian ramp to the vessel would be lengthened, allowing vessels to use two doors to load or off-load passengers.

A walkway and native plants would be placed along the bank above the riprap just north of the existing pier.

Mr. Cecil said the key idea of the plan is to accommodate vehicles waiting to get on the ferry, or dropping off and picking up passengers, without interfering with vehicle and pedestrian on and near Sea View and Oak Bluffs avenues.

The project likely would have to go before a number of federal, state and town entities for review and approval. Reviewing agencies probably would include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state department of environmental protection, the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and the Oak Bluffs conservation and historical commissions.

At Tuesday's meeting, selectman Kerry Scott said much of the plan is predicated on using additional space on North Bluff. She questioned what would become of the plan if that space wasn't available.

Mr. Cecil replied that the plan was consistent with standards for terminal design in such an area. He said that an increase in staging area is critical to the redesigned terminal. "Something has to give somewhere," he said.

Ms. Scott and Ann Margetson, who lives on Wamsutta avenue, also questioned the part of the plan that calls for the lengthening of the vehicle loading ramp from 30 to 50 feet. Ms. Scott noted that an SSA staff summary of the project calls for lengthening the ramp to accommodate larger trucks.

Boat line officials said they do not plan to increase the length of the trucks now coming and going from the Oak Bluffs terminal. Instead, they said, a longer ramp, with a less severe angle, would lessen the danger to existing trucks moving onto ferries at extreme tides. SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said the boat line had lengthened its vehicle ramps at Woods Hole, Hyannis and Nantucket, and now wants to do the same in Oak Bluffs.

Bridget Tobin, who manages the boat line's Vineyard terminals, said trucks using ferries have became substantially longer in recent years.

Asked if the boat line was unable to gain use of the old town hall, Mr. Cecil said the boat line could build a terminal building near its current site, but the building would have to be two stories tall and would face issues related to its proximity to the ocean.

The overall terminal plan calls for a reverse in the current traffic flow along Ocean avenue, as well as the use of parking spaces along that street for short-term parking for the relocated ferry terminal. Police chief Erik Blake questioned that idea, saying that the police department now uses many of the spaces for parking.

Conservation commissioner Joan Hughes asked that boat line representatives meet with the commission before filing a formal notice of intent. The commission has been critical of the prior terminal design. Carl Walker, the boat line's director of engineering, said he planned to do so.

The redesign would include a gazebo, an automatic ticket machine and a glassed-in booth for a SSA ticket seller to the east of Sea View avenue, as well as a wooden roof for the pedestrian walkway to the ferries. Mr. Cecil said the terminal designers will work with the Oak Bluffs historical commission to design exteriors that reflect the Victorian architecture in the area.