Engineering Report Targets Bridge Safety
By MAX HART
The committee charged with studying the replacement of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge approved an engineering consultant's report on the condition of the bridge this week, but the central question of whether to replace the bridge in two phases or one remains unresolved.
The report, authored by Lichtenstein Consulting Engineers Inc. of Paramus, N.J., offers suggestions on how to repair the current structure to reduce the risk of failure. The report now heads to state highway officials and an array of local boards, including the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs selectmen as well as the Martha's Vineyard Commission, for review and comment.
Committee members approved the report at a meeting Wednesday morning.
The report made no mention of how long the bridge might last before failure, but the consultant has said that even with repairs, a failure with the drawbridge mechanism is likely within six to eight years, according to committee chairman Melinda Loberg. The bridge is a key linchpin in the Vineyard road network, linking Vineyard Haven with Oak Bluffs along Beach Road, and is a main artery to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital.
The debate over how to proceed revolves around the construction of a temporary bridge. The state wants to build a temporary drawbridge before putting a permanent drawbridge in place. The temporary bridge would cost $5 million and would be in place for five to six years; the permanent bridge would cost $24 million and would not be built until 2013 at the earliest. Some committee members fear that the temporary bridge will become permanent, and want the state to proceed directly to the construction of the permanent bridge, while somehow keeping the existing drawbridge in service.
Selectmen in Tisbury and Oak Bluffs agreed to hire the engineering consultant last summer, and the two towns split the $14,000 cost of the study.
The drawbridge committee has asked Mass Highway whether a new bridge could be built alongside the current span without the need for a temporary structure. Mass Highway officials have said they would not agree to that scenario unless the committee or either of the towns assumed the risk if the bridge fails.
The Lichtenstein report is an attempt to gauge that risk.
Much of the meeting on Wednesday morning was spent discussing ways to enforce existing controls, as spelled out in the report, including restricting weight and speed over the bridge. Robert Maciel, the drawbridge operator, told the committee that he has seen an impact from large trucks on the bridge.
"A Falmouth Lumber truck came over the bridge one day packed with sheetrock and the deck bowed a lot," Mr. Maciel said. "And after it passed it sprang back up and made terrible noise. I don't know how much of those the bridge can take."
The committee said it would send a letter to Island trucking companies to suggest using an alternate route, and will ask the Steamship Authority to distribute the letter to trucks coming over from Woods Hole. The possibility of creating a designated trucking route up State Road was also discussed.
At one point, the discussion grew heated, when county engineer Steve Berlucchi and Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel had a terse exchange. Mr. Israel accused Mr. Berlucchi of inhibiting a frank and thorough discussion of the study, and he said the county engineer, who used to work for Mass Highway, has been little more than a mouthpiece for state highway officials.
"I take exception to that," Mr. Berlucchi fired back at Mr. Israel. "Stop slandering me."
"We're going through a process, Steve, so let us go through the process," Mr. Israel responded. "Not all of us know everything about bridges like you, so why can't we just go through the process?"
Later in the same day, at the Wednesday evening meeting of the Dukes County Commission, Mr. Berlucchi, who is also the commission's representative to the drawbridge committee, told the commission that the consultant's report reinforced previous state engineering reports on the extent of damage to the bridge. Mr. Berlucchi suggested that the county formally endorse the two-bridge concept, even though the engineering report did not go that far.
"My understanding is that according to Mr. Berlucchi, the committee initially endorsed the two-bridge concept, and said the consultant's report issued on Wednesday told us what we already knew about the bridge - that it is getting dangerous and needs to be fixed," county manager E. Winn Davis said yesterday.
Mr. Davis said the county commission did vote to endorse the two-bridge concept.
Relations between Mr. Berlucchi and Tisbury town officials have been strained for some time over the drawbridge issue. It was also revealed this week that Mr. Berlucchi recently requested a private meeting between himself, the county manager and the Tisbury selectmen.
In an e-mail to Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee last Thursday, Mr. Berlucchi wrote: "As discussed today via phone, the county manager and myself would appreciate meeting with the selectmen in the near future to discuss drawbridge issues. We'd hope to have a private informal meeting anywhere they would like. Preferably a small group with a round table."
Mr. Davis said yesterday that the meeting was meant to try and move the project along as well as to better understand some of the issues related to the temporary bridge plan, but he said that he did not intend for the meeting to be private.
"I didn't ask for it to be private, and it certainly did not have to be," Mr. Davis said.
The Lichtenstein engineering report will now head to District Five, the division of Mass Highway that handles all maintenance and repairs for state bridges, as well as Mass Highway headquarters in Boston for review. The committee will also present the report to the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs selectmen and the Martha's Vineyard Commission in coming weeks.