It’s an uncharacteristically noisy holiday season on Circuit avenue, but the downtown buzz in Oak Bluffs isn’t from tourists and shoppers. Instead it comes from chain saws and leaf blowers.

New sidewalks and other improvements are planned for Kennebec. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Work got under way this week on the multi-million dollar downtown revitalization streetscape project, which will eventually expand sidewalks and change the parking configuration from diagonal to parallel from the corner of Lake avenue to Healey Square. Last month, the select board awarded a $1.65 million bid to Lawrence-Lynch Corp. for the Circuit avenue part of the project.

Work began Tuesday with the removal of trees lining Circuit avenue.

Through the end of December, the work is largely preliminary, according to a schedule posted on the Oak Bluffs town website. Tree removal will last through Dec. 21, according to the schedule, and further work scheduled this month includes tree pit demolition and materials delivery.

Select board member Brian Packish said at a meeting Tuesday that the more involved work will begin in the new year.

“There’s some work being done now . . . and then they really dig into it,” he said.

And workers will dig into it literally. First up in the new year will be digging up the sidewalk on the upper portion of the street by Reliable Market, town administrator Deborah Potter told the Gazette by phone Thursday. Replacing that portion of the sidewalk is the first step in a five-phase plan to fully replace all Circuit avenue sidewalks.

Clearing the way for a more pedestrian-friendly Circuit avenue. — Mark Alan Lovewell

According to available project plans, the parking-side sidewalk will be expanded several feet from Lake avenue to Healey Square — correcting what the 258-page streetscape master plan calls unsafe walkability.

“Small or non existent sidewalks create an unsafe and unwelcoming environment for pedestrians who would benefit from street-side seating and a buffer from moving vehicles,” the master plan says.

Plans approved by the select board in May also call for sidewalk improvements on Kennebec and an extension to Healey Square.

At town meeting in June 2020, voters authorized the town to borrow up to $2.7 million to finish the work. But with the prospect of grants and other funding, not all the money may be needed to finish the project, Ms. Potter said.

The work is set to be completed early next May.

“That’s why the schedule is so tight and we couldn’t afford any delays,” she said.

When the project begins in earnest in 2022, the select board hopes to have an oversight committee in place that will ensure work is on track, and advise on minor decisions such as tree and bench choices.

A seven-member committee is contemplated.

The streetscape project — particularly the switch from diagonal to parallel parking — has been a major topic of debate in recent months.

Project will get under way fully in January. — Mark Alan Lovewell

In May, the select board approved a conceptual plan detailing the changes planned for Circuit, Kennebec and Lake avenues.

After that objections began to fly.

At special town meeting in November, a citizens’ petition calling for the changes to be put on the town ballot failed to pass muster with town counsel.

But calls for more transparency persisted.

The select board has said the process was transparent, pointing to dozens of planning board and streetscape subcommittee meetings, as well as public hearings on the plan. Minutes from the meetings are posted on a streetscape page on the town website.

The project master plan, also posted on the Oak Bluffs website, is wide-ranging, with many details about parking changes and other enhancements designed to make the heart of the town more pedestrian friendly and inter-connected.

Ms. Potter said the master plan will remain a relevant document throughout the construction process, but final results may vary from the written plan.

“It is not indicated to be a final document,” she said. “It is intended to be a working document.”

On the North Bluff, the plan calls for a new park to act as a welcoming space near the ferries that dock there. The town has received a $1 million Seaport Economic Council grant for some of that work and other improvements.

Controversy and all, the streetscape project caps seven years of planning, and by next year is expected to significantly transform downtown Oak Bluffs.