The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has prohibited passing on state-controlled, bidirectional two-lane roads with speed limits under 45 miles per hour. Although the restriction was first issued in August 2021, new yellow double-lines painted on roads across the Island have made the ruling official this past week, prompting confusion from drivers and town officials alike.

In an email to the Gazette, a representative from MassDOT explained that the rule and other new passing zone restrictions are part of the department's Strategic Highway Safety Plan being implemented incrementally across the state. The passing zone updates do not apply to interstates or freeways.

"The passing zone closures, which are identified based on a thorough review of regional locations within each Highway Division District, are implemented the next time the roadways are scheduled to be repaved or when pavement markings are re-applied," stated MassDOT official Judith Reardon Riley.

In an Edgartown select board meeting last week, police chief Bruce McNamee expressed frustration with the new policy, which he said came as a surprise to both the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs police departments. The new rule most conspicuously affects Beach Road, he said, where drivers often slow down to look for a parking spot at State Beach.

“It’s long been a safe passing zone,” Chief McNamee said of the strip of Beach Road between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. “I do think that stretch of pavement is very different [from the other roads affected].”

Chief McNamee added that the lack of passing options could drive up instances of road rage.

“There’s a lot of driver frustration here, certainly in the summer,” he said. “You compound that with a moped or something...”

Ultimately, Chief McNamee said, the department is powerless to advocate against the new rule, but that doesn’t mean they will be devoting extra energy to policing it.

“We’re not going to go out of our way to enforce this,” he said. “Edgartown and Oak Bluffs have long worked together very well to manage traffic on the road.”