A smaller group of residents and city officials gathered Tuesday in Carlton Elementary School in Salem than in past meetings, but those who did got good news on the Salem train station parking garage.
According to George Doherty, the MBTA’s construction manager for the overhaul of the commuter rail station, the roughly $39 million project remains on budget and on schedule, with construction set to begin late next spring or early summer.
The biggest change to the design of the station — which includes a five-level garage — since residents last saw plans in late June moves the indoor waiting area into the garage itself, reducing the projected number of spaces to just under 700, rather than the approximately 715 originally planned.
Parking has been a sore spot in the early phases of construction, and commuters looking for spaces won’t have much luck in Beverly, where construction on another MBTA garage recently began.
Last week, MBTA officials cleared a key hurdle that could have delayed work by four to five months, to the inconvenience of some commuters, who reached out to the Globe in frustration after showing up at the station on Nov. 5 to find about 225 spaces in the current parking lot fenced off.
Complaints stemmed from the MBTA’s method of warning commuters that more than half of the lot — which fits about 340 vehicles — was going to be shut down for the next six to eight weeks. The MBTA announced the closure three days before the fence went up. Excavation of the area must be done as part of the project’s environmental review and permitting process before construction can begin.
“This was so poorly handled,” Barbara McLaughlin, who takes the train from Salem to her job at Massachusetts General Hospital, wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “None of us who park there were informed and a notice, with no header, was left on the windshields. . . which said when the parking lot is closed.”
Doherty explained the reason for the short notice was that the MBTA had just received permitting from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to excavate and complete archeological assessment of the site. It includes the remains of the Salem Roundhouse, a building used for servicing locomotives that once stood on the site and may be eligible for the national and state registers of historic places.
Had excavation not begun immediately, the Historical Commission would have made the T wait until the spring.
“I apologize; we’re trying to do our best,” Doherty said at Tuesday’s meeting. “That one didn’t work out as well as it should have.”
Commuters displaced by the temporary closure have the option of parking at neighboring commuter rail stations, but according to Doherty there is no compensation for passes purchased for different lots on the commuter rail line.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said that the 123 spaces in the city-owned section of the current lot are expected to remain available for commuter use once construction begins. City officials also are pushing to pave the nearby site of the former Universal Steel building on Bridge Street and use the 1.2-acre parcel for parking during construction.
Parking at nearby commuter rail stations could be tighter than usual for Salem commuters looking for other options because of a similar, $34 million parking garage project at Beverly Depot. Construction on that development, which will put a four-level, 500-space garage on Rantoul Street in Beverly, about a block-and-a-half from the commuter rail station, also began on Nov. 5, forcing the closure of the current lot and loss of about 100 spaces.
Beverly residents had expressed concerns about the impact on the surrounding area at a meeting in October, worrying that commuters would displace residents by taking up street parking.
According to City Councilor Wes Slate, who represents the downtown area in Ward 2, city officials have been working with the Parking and Traffic Commission and Mayor Bill Scanlon to address the issue. Possible preventative measures, including the creation of resident-only parking zones or changes to current hourly restrictions, are expected to come before the City Council as early as Monday. Any parking changes require council approval through city ordinance.
As of Wednesday, a week into construction, Slate said he had not received any complaints from residents regarding parking issues.
“I’ve actually heard nothing from residents myself,” Slate said in a phone interview. “I’ve received no e-mails, no questions, no contact so far, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any. They just haven’t gotten to me.”
Beverly Police Sergeant Russell Rollins, head of the traffic and safety division, said parking has not been an issue so far. The police have the authority to place temporary parking restrictions around construction areas, but Rollins said the department has not felt a need to given the current restrictions in place.
Signs have gone up “directing people to the municipal lots that we have downtown . . . it hasn’t been a big problem,” he said.
The only road closure required in Beverly during construction will come when workers install a pedestrian bridge from the garage to the station. Doherty said that will take place on a Saturday morning, and Pleasant Street will be closed for one day at the most.
Doherty hopes to have that garage open by the end of next year.