Constructon of a 715-space parking garage at the Salem Commuter rail station has cleared a key hurdle.
The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced on August 24 that a waiver allowing MBTA officials to move forward with construction of the garage has been granted, avoiding a 12-to 15-month delay to the start of work.
The waiver allows MBTA officials to bypass the required Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which would have postponed the start of the $39 million project scheduled for next spring up to a year or more.
The project essentially amounts to a complete overhaul of the train station with the construction of the new garage, an indoor waiting area, elevated track, and other amenities.
"It's great news for the project, and great news I think for the city," City Planner Lynn Duncan said in a phone interview.
The EIR was originally deemed necessary because the site abuts the North River, but the MBTA filed a waiver request with an expanded Environmental Notification Form, which environmental officials felt adequately addressed what the EIR would have, including environmental impacts, historic preservation, traffic, and pedestrian access.
An email request for comment was not returned by Mayor Kim Driscoll, but she expressed her delight with the decision through Twitter on Friday, calling the decision "great news." She had been a vocal supporter of the waiver, wanting to avoid any more delays to a development that has been in the works for the better part of two decades.
In July, at Dricoll's urging, the City Council voted, 10-1, to send a letter to state officials voicing support for the waiver request. Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski, who wanted to see MBTA officials follow through with the EIR and represented the only dissenting vote, did not return an email seeking comment.
Sosnowski has expressed concerns over the future of Bridge Street - an already highly congested area at certain times of the day - which he feels will be negatively impacted by the massive project. Current plans include one entrance/exit point for vehicles.
His concerns echo those of the people whom he represents in North Salem.
"I love a lot of the things the city is doing, but the traffic is not being addressed," lamented Beverlie McSwiggin of the Mack Park Neighborhood Association.
Pedestrian access has also been an area of contention, with some residents of North Salem of the opinion that the station will not be properly accessible from the other side of the North River.
Leslie Limon, of the Northfields Neighborhood Association, was not surprised by the strong support of the waiver request by city officials, or the state's decision to grant it.
"I've just gotten very cynical about the way decisions are made in Salem, so this doesn't surprise me," Limon said. "So that's my reaction, what else is new?"
According to Duncan, the next public hearing on the project, which was supposed to take place this month, has been pushed back likely until November as Boston-based Fennick McCredie Architecture continues to work on the design.
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.