Give Historic Preservation A Seat On The NP&EDC

Hillary Hedges Rayport •

To the editor: Last Thursday the MassDOT presented its design for a much-anticipated bike lane connector along Milestone Road at Polpis Road. No surprise, this simple bike lane project has turned into a $2.3 million road widening hairball. How is it possible that a bike lane extension and intersection alignment initiative, which is intended to get people out of cars and safely onto bikes, is adding turning lanes to Milestone and Polpis Road and making our charming and historic Milestone road well over 30 feet wide?

One reason Islanders have heard so little about this project until now is that over a year ago the NP&EDC, with the support of the Select Board, handed complete control of project design over to off-island consultants Greenman Pederson Inc (GPI) and the MassDOT.

You may recall the outcome of the last project on Milestone Road -- it resulted in the installation of 80 huge reflective signs between Town and ‘Sconset. We now have so many signs on that short six mile stretch of road that there are signs warning us about upcoming signs. Some of the signs are impossible to see, because they are blocked by other signs. Seriously – just take a drive and you’ll see. The NP&EDC admitted they wished it would have gone differently, but no one reviewed the project until it was too late – even though the commission’s job was, and is, oversight of projects exactly like this one.

The only thing that will keep sign clutter and asphalt-creep at bay is careful local review and a broadly held commitment to improving road safety without sacrificing the rural feeling of Nantucket’s roads. In truth, Nantucket has a local bylaw limiting turning lanes and excess signage on municipal roads. Despite this, Old South Road is a lost cause (due to an approved subdivision plan). But we can and should be extra vigilant about Milestone, Polpis, and other scenic roads.

It is possible to fix this. The entirety of Nantucket Island is a National Historic Landmark. When it comes to state and federally funded projects, the Nantucket Historical Commission has the right, guaranteed by law, to review and comment on any adverse effects. State funded projects cannot move forward without review and sign off from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, with the Nantucket Historical Commission playing an advisory role.

Astonishingly, we learned last Thursday that the DOT’s notices to the Historical Commission were never delivered. Did the letters go to The PLUS office? To the NP&EDC? To the Select Board? Who knows. One thing is for sure; the DOT sent those letters and they were not delivered. If the Historical Commission had an appointment to the NP&EDC, you can bet your life that this slip-up would never have happened.

That’s why I’ve proposed legislation, passed at 2023 ATM and currently in review at the State House. Bill S2467 reforms the NP&EDC and includes an appointed member from the Historical Commission and the Land Bank.

As many on Island know, the NP&EDC is opposing this bill. Internally, the members voted down the idea of including the Nantucket Historical Commission as an appointed member, calling it “unnecessary.” If even the MassDOT believes historic review of projects is important, why doesn’t our own NP&EDC? We can hardly afford for our island’s historic inheritance – even its National Landmark status – to be treated as peripheral, or even irrelevant, to the task of planning.

Hillary Hedges Rayport

Former Chair
Nantucket Historical Commission

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