Back in the middle of the last decade, a round about was proposed for the Island’s key blinker intersection, where Barnes Road crosses the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. The discussion faded away. I thought the proposal had done likewise.

This past April the roundabout came roaring out of hibernation when the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) held what is called a 25 per cent design public hearing. While hibernating, the roundabout proposal had magically transformed itself into a done deal. I was shocked.

The project, officially proposed by the town of Oak Bluffs, had never been considered as a development of regional impact (DRI). Why not? One glance at a map shows that not just Oak Bluffs will be affected. When West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel realized the omission, he was shocked too. The West Tisbury board of selectmen voted to make a discretionary referral to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, asking it to review the proposal as a DRI.

At a public hearing on August 4, the MVC voted 10–3 to do so.

It needs to be stopped because an alternative solution to the intersection’s traffic-flow problems — a “smart” traffic light — has not been adequately explored.

And it needs to be stopped because the planning process has been so flawed from the start that allowing it to proceed unimpeded may have a very negative regional impact.

Roundabouts are touted for their traffic-calming effects. No one argues that before 2003 traffic on the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road needed calming. The four-way stop did the job. At the August 4 hearing, a representative of Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. (GPI), the engineering firm, said that the crash rate for the intersection was four — four accidents a year. Nearly all are fender-benders. According to GPI, general studies indicate that roundabouts reduce accidents by 70 to 80 per cent.

Four reduced by 70 to 80 per cent is approximately one. Is it really wise to spend upwards of $1.2 million in order to prevent three fender-benders? What’s more, a Q& A prepared by the MVC staff in May 2006 stated that “there are too few cases of four-way stops being converted to roundabouts to provide statistically valid comparisons of the accident rates.” In other words, a roundabout isn’t likely to improve safety at the blinker intersection.

Perused five years later, the 2006 report seems a tad alarmist. I’ve been through the four-way stop many times this summer with no noticeable delays. The backups that the MVC deemed “normal” for summer only happen at certain times of day. The problem, in other words, is not traffic calming or safety. The problem is irregular traffic flow.

Where irregular traffic flow is a problem, a smart traffic light is a plausible solution. A smart light could work red-yellow-green at peak hours and blink red in all four directions the rest of the time, like our four-way stop. We’ve been told by the roundabout enthusiasts that state guidelines prohibit such lights at intersections with relatively low traffic volume, but I believe that this alternative deserves further investigation before roundabout planning goes any further.

Why, finally, did the roundabout project disappear off the public radar for so long? How did it come to reappear this spring, fully funded and ready to go? According to the chronology distributed by the MVC at the August 4 public hearing, the Oak Bluffs selectmen approved construction of the roundabout on Sept. 28, 2006. Until that date, planning seems to have involved only Oak Bluffs and the MVC. Public hearings were indeed held in 2006 — under the aegis of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, and in the summer, when many year-round Vineyarders are distracted by other obligations.

The timeline goes largely blank for almost four years, until 2010, when the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen agreed to let MassDOT take over, and arrange funding for the roundabout. Cash-strapped Oak Bluffs, in other words, does not have to pay for the project it set loose on the Island. Would the voters of Oak Bluffs support the roundabout if they had to pay for it? Oak Bluffs currently can’t afford its own animal control officer. Proposition 2 1/2 override questions almost invariably fail before the town’s electorate. So I think not.

The only things the roundabout project has going for it are momentum and state and federal money. These are not enough. Supporters have not made a persuasive case that safety at the blinker intersection will be significantly improved. If traffic flow at peak summer and off-season hours is considered a serious problem, there are less disruptive ways to manage it. And the planning process thus far raises so many questions that it merits thorough scrutiny before the runaway roundabout goes any further.

A Martha’s Vineyard Commission public hearing on the roundabout will be held on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 7:15 p.m. in the regional high school cafeteria.

Susanna J. Sturgis blogs year-round about the Vineyard at