The state-funded reconstruction project on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven has hit engineering snags just months after work began, complicating the construction process and maddening town officials. 

Among the problems identified are complications with the town’s drainage, water and sewer systems, which all lie beneath the surface of the road, town officials said. Severe erosion on a stretch of the road, made worse by a recent spate of winter northeast storms, is also hampering the work. 

Town water and sewer lines beneath the road have prompted the need for new engineering work. — Ray Ewing

In an email responding to questions from the Gazette this week, Judith Riley, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, confirmed the engineering problems and said the agency was investigating differences between the proposed drainage plans and the town’s existing water and sewer mains. “MassDOT drainage design was based on record plans for the existing water and sewer,” Ms. Riley wrote. “There are discrepancies in location and materials from the record plans and the actual installed water and sewer mains.”

The project’s hiccups came to light at a meeting of the Tisbury select board on Tuesday evening, when town administrator Jay Grande shared updates from the town’s biweekly meeting with MassDOT earlier that day.

“Right now we’re fully engaged in the infrastructure issues that have arisen,” said Mr. Grande. “I’d call them problems.”

The $6 million project, which officially began in September, is being conducted and funded by the state Department of Transportation, with state engineer Mike Zuzevich acting as project liaison. The Wilmington-based firm Greenman-Pedersen is acting as the consulting engineer.

Nearly 10 years in the making, the project to redo the vital Island artery that connects the Island’s two main port towns was originally proposed as part of a plan by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to fill gaps in an Islandwide bike path network. But the project quickly expanded beyond that scope, with the state proposing a more expansive overhaul on the half-mile stretch of road and its decaying subterranean infrastructure between Five Corners and Wind’s Up.

Construction is planned to take place between Labor Day and Memorial Day for the next three years, with a completion date in 2023, MassDOT announced this fall. Vineyard Haven-based White Brothers-Lynch Corporation is the contractor.

According to a timeline provided by Tisbury town officials, the state planned to begin signage, mobilization and work on erosion this fall. The state also planned to run test pits, work on underground utilities and remove and replace water mains as well as replace other drainage equipment. Actual construction work was slated to begin in March. But project planners and engineers have had to return to the drawing board in recent months, as utility work revealed previously unforeseen discrepancies between engineering plans and existing infrastructure.

“There were water and services and infrastructure located in the field that conflicted with proposed utilities,” Mr. Grande said in an interview Wednesday. “I think pipes in the way is a good way of describing it.”

At the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday and in the subsequent interview, Mr. Grande expounded on the problem, saying a recent second series of 15 test pits ordered by the state in response to the conflicts has revealed further issues, too, including a shallow municipal water line running less than a foot below the road’s surface.

The state plans to dig additional pits along the road this week to determine whether the town’s wastewater system infrastructure will also pose obstacles during construction, he said. 

In the email, Ms. Riley confirrmed that contractors were opening test pits to determine actual water and sewer locations and that further engineering work was necessary.

“MassDOT’s designer is working to redesign drainage elements to avoid conflicts with the sewer main and looking for options to handle the water main conflicts that include relocation of additional water main along with alterations to the proposed drainage,” she wrote.

Ms. Riley said the time and cost impacts on the project were not yet known.

Works spans the main artery running from Five Corners to Wind's Up. — Ray Ewing

“Fortunately these activities are occurring during the winter shutdown period,” she wrote. “The project is occurring during a period of minimally planned construction due to the time of year.”

But at the meeting Tuesday, selectmen pulled no punches sounding off on the state project, expressing their dismay at the engineering issues.

“I’m totally opposed to this project,” selectman Jeff Kristal said. “I don’t understand why they’re going forward . . . There’s a pipe 12 inches under the road . . . and it’s not going to be solved just digging a test pit and trying to find out what’s going on under there.”

Mr. Grande said in the subsequent interview that design plans for the project’s drainage, wastewater and water utilities will all likely have to be reengineered — and urgently, as a recent bout of inclement weather and years of erosion have further exacerbated the need for reconstruction.

“They have at least twice done beach nourishment, that’s eroded away. It needs a more permanent address,” Mr. Grande said of a portion of the road near Vineyard Scripts where water is eating away at the already decaying subterranean pipelines.

Poor road maintenance and clogged catch basins have also abetted severe flooding on the road this winter, angering town officials, Mr. Grande said. “It’s constant. They [the state] need to maintain the road, they need to keep it swept, so the catch basin in the drainage system works as best it can,” he said.

Also complicating matters, Mr. Grande said the town is working with Vineyard Wind contractors to make sure an outfall drainage pipe to the harbor is added to the project agenda before the state begins construction next month.

And after a progress plan from the state’s consulting engineers for the waterline repairs was deemed insufficient by the Tisbury water superintendent, the town engaged the assistance of the engineering firm Environmental Partners on retainer, who have begun inquiry into the issues as well.

“My understanding about a month ago was that this would be addressed and resolved,” Mr. Grande said. “Finding out that whatever had been put forward was not addressing concerns . . . it’s a necessity to have that technical expertise and supportive staff.”

A technical meeting with the firm, the town water and wastewater superintendents and other affiliated agencies to review current engineering plans is on the agenda for the coming weeks, Mr. Grande said.

The firm will also conduct peer reviews of future plans and help offer solutions and suggested designs, he said. But with the March construction date quickly approaching, Mr. Grande said the project has a way to go before it can break ground.

“My understanding is this does happen with larger projects . . . This is not a quick process. It’s going to require close scrutiny,” Mr. Grande said. “There are conflicts that have to be resolved before the excavation can take place.”