Round About Now . . .

No, the bulldozers haven’t arrived at the blinker intersection, but the roundabout hasn’t gone away either.

In early December, Edgartown and West Tisbury filed a suit in superior court to appeal the decision of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) to approve the roundabout. Lawsuits suck, but this is the only way to appeal an MVC decision.

By the end of January the suit had been dropped. Why? Because MVC approval wasn’t required for the project to go forward, so even a successful suit couldn’t stop it. The state can do whatever it wants.

Think about that, people. The MVC is, more or less, in the business of reviewing and approving permits. The roundabout project required no permits. The public hearings were a sham. So were the lackluster meetings that culminated in cliffhanger votes. Our fate, it seems, was sealed in 2010 when the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen signed a contract with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), giving MassDOT both managerial control of and fiscal responsibility for the roundabout project.

I’d call it a Faustian bargain, but Faust was bargaining with his own soul. The Oak Bluffs board of selectmen was bargaining with something that didn’t belong to it, and with precious little popular support, either in its hometown or around the island. Picture a hero of melodrama, strapped to a log and headed toward a buzzsaw. How are we going to get out of this mess?

In melodrama, the hero is saved in the very nick of time. In real life, rescuers are in short supply. This thing can only be stopped at the state level, but our elected reps don’t want to get involved. State senator Dan Wolf and state representative Tim Madden smile attentively then don’t lift a finger. Rep. Madden’s legislative liaison for Martha’s Vineyard is the niece of the Greg Coogan, gung-ho roundabouter on the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen. Could this have anything to do with Madden’s unwillingness to stick his neck out? Oh, good heavens, Susanna, how could you think such a thing? You’re so cynical!

Yeah, we can vote the bums out, but we don’t get a chance at the commissioners till next November, and by then the intersection will probably be torn up. This thing is so unnecessary, and so unpopular, and so goddamn expensive — why can’t we stop it?

A post by a Facebook friend reminded me that MassDOT is tightening its budgetary belt by threatening cuts to commuter rail service and the MBTA; it also wants to close several Registry of Motor Vehicles offices across the state. Aha, thought I, I know how you could save $1.4 million!

MassDOT, however, hasn’t shown any interest in Vineyard popular opinion. Wolf and Madden won’t help. How to get their attention? It was a long longshot, but last weekend I e-mailed one of the Boston Globe reporters who’s been writing about MassDOT.

I’m e-mailing you because you’ve written about MassDOT’s current budget crunch and down here on Martha’s Vineyard we’ve got an related story that may be of interest: an opportunity for MassDOT to save $1.4 million and make a lot of friends on Martha’s Vineyard. . . .

The short version is that MassDOT wants to replace a four-way stop at a key island intersection with a roundabout. The need for a roundabout has not been proven, its environmental impact has not been addressed, and alternatives have not been adequately explored. About three-quarters of the island population is against it, as measured by informal polls and petitions.

I proceeded to lay out The Basics. I’ve been immersed in this thing long enough that they flow fluently from my fingers.

Wonder of wonders, I got a reply within a few hours: the reporter was interested, but he had to consult with his editors.

Wonder of more wonders, on Monday I got the word that his editors were interested. I e-mailed him a list of key players and their contact info: Coogan of the OB BoS, Mark London of the MVC, Tom Currier at MassDOT, Richard Knabel of the West Tisbury board of selectmen, and so on. Will a story appear in the Globe? If it does, will MassDOT, our elected representatives, and/or the governor take notice? Who knows? Our hero is still headed for the buzzsaw.

Meanwhile, Martha’s Vineyard Patch is working on a story about the roundabout opposition — something neither of our two newspapers have shown much interest in. And opponents are working to get a nonbinding roundabout referendum on the spring election ballots in the various island towns. At last report, it’s on in West Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs and pending approval in Vineyard Haven and Chilmark. Will MassDOT et al. take notice of the results, if — as widely expected — they show widespread opposition to the roundabout? We don’t know that either — but it could be an interesting couple of months.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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2 Responses to Round About Now . . .

  1. jo says:

    way to go! rooting for an article. “follow the money” is rarely bad advice in journalism; this could prove to be a very interesting story, and new hope for stopping the roundabout.


    • That’s one of the puzzling things — the most gung-ho island supporters of the roundabout, especially Oak Bluffs town officials, don’t stand to benefit financially. These big state contracts inevitably go to off-island contractors because island contractors don’t qualify: they’re too small, they don’t have the right bonding, and/or (if they live here) they’d generally have to bid higher than off-island companies with lower living expenses. But OB officials and their reps on the MVCommission have been rabid in favor of the thing.

      I’d also love to see the pro arguments subjected to more critical scrutiny by someone who isn’t trying to cover his butt.


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