The Commission’s Second Chance

Public opinion is humming again over the roundabout following the surprise announcement last week by longtime Martha’s Vineyard Commission member Leonard Jason Jr. that he will ask the commission to rescind its vote on the controversial project.

In what seemed like the final word on a decade-long debate, the MVC voted seven to six two weeks ago to approve construction of a roundabout at the blinker intersection in Oak Bluffs. An outspoken critic of the roundabout, Mr. Jason is now urging the commission to take another vote. And if he successfully makes his case, the commission could do just that at its meeting next Thursday night.

The narrowness of the MVC vote was no anomaly. It’s difficult to find an issue on the Vineyard on which public opinion seems so evenly divided — or so unpredictable. This is not a clear-cut case of pro versus anti-development, summer resident versus year-rounder, newcomer versus native Islander. We hear lots of opinions for and against, each based on a different rationale: safety, cost, appearance, to name a few.

If there is any doubt that all eyes are on this decision, the all-Island selectmen’s association has cancelled its meeting set for the same night. The selectmen want to go to the commission meeting instead, and who can blame them? This marks a small but nonetheless important moment for the commission and the Island.

The roundabout, as we’ve said before, won’t ruin the Island. But where opposition continues to run so high, it is important to ask the question: Do we really need it? And our answer ultimately is no.

The roundabout is a plan that was conceived in wholly different times, a decade ago when the Island was under pressure from explosive growth, summer traffic congestion was at its peak and engineers were called in to devise a solution. Those times have changed, and today the roundabout plan seems to be mostly about the availability of public money for a problem that exists a few weeks of the year. Just because there are federal and state funds available for a project doesn’t mean it is worth $1.2 million.

Next Thursday night commission chairman Chris Murphy, who cast the deciding vote to break a tie and approve the roundabout two weeks ago, has a key role to play in remaining scrupulously above the fray and guiding matters with a fair hand. There are a tangle of meeting rules at issue — the commission is first expected to consider rescinding its original vote on the roundabout. Only if that motion were approved could the commission consider voting on the roundabout again as a new matter.

There is ample precedent at the commission for reconsideration of important votes; Mr. Jason has been there for most of them, he knows the rules and is well within bounds in his request.

We believe the commission should reconsider the roundabout in a new vote. And whatever the outcome, the Island can know that the commission has done its job and done it well.

And then it will be time to move on.