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Officials take steps to prevent parking issues stemming from major MBTA projects in Salem, Beverly

Posted by Ryan Mooney  November 14, 2012 01:33 PM

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Image provided by the MBTA

A computer-generated rendering by Boston-based Fennick McCredie Architecture of the future parking garage and redeveloped platform at the Salem commuter rail station. Construction on the $39 million project is slated to begin in the late spring or early summer of next year.

A much smaller group of residents and city officials gathered at the Carlton Elementary School than in past meetings for the latest updates on the design of the future Salem train station parking garage on Tuesday night, but the few who did appear were greeted with good news.

According to George Doherty, the MBTA's construction manager for the overhaul of the commuter rail station the $39 million project remains on budget and on schedule, with construction set to begin in the late spring or early summer of next year. The project includes a new, five-level garage, as well as an indoor waiting area, and other new amenities.

Doherty said Tuesday night the target date to have cars in the garage is October 1, 2014.

The largest change to the design since residents last saw it in late June moves the indoor waiting area into the garage itself, reducing the projected number of spaces to just under 700, rather than around 715 as originally planned.

On Nov. 5  MBTA officials fenced off about 225 spaces in the current parking lot to begin six to eight weeks of excavation work as part of the project's environmental review and permitting process. 

Commuters complained that they were not informed well enough or soon enough of the lost of spaces in the lot which has a total of 340 spaces.

"This was so poorly handled," Barbara McLaughlin, who takes the train from Salem to her job at Mass. General Hospital every day, wrote in an email to the Globe last week. "None of us who park there were informed and a notice, with no header, was left on the windshields, melted from the rain...looking like a marketing add 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.  Had excavation not begun immediately, the Historic Commission would have made the T wait until the spring.

"I apologize, we're trying to do our best," Doherty said. "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 in different rate zones 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, and city officials are also pushing to pave the 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 due to 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 November 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 begin displacing neighboring 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 closely with the city's Parking and Traffic Commission and Mayor Bill Scanlon to address the issue. Possible preventative measures, including resident-only parking, or changes to current restrictions, are expected to come before the city council as early as Monday. Any parking changes require council approval through city ordinance.

Now a week into construction, Slate said he had not received any correspondence from residents regarding parking issues.

"I've actually heard nothing from residents myself," Slate said in a phone interview. "I've received no emails, no questions, no contact so far, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been any, they just haven't gotten to me."

Slate said that questions and concerns called into City Hall are being directed to City Engineer Eric Barber. Barber was out of his office on Wednesday, and did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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 says the department has not felt a need to, given the current restrictions in place.

"[We've] put up signage directing people to the municipal lots that we have hasn't been a big problem," Rollins said. "The side streets, a lot of them are restricted to two-hour parking between 7 a.m. and noontime, which is typically when commuters will be looking for places to park. That is enforced and it's been in place for quite some time."

The only necessary road closure in Beverly required 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 the garage open by December of 2013.

Ryan Mooney can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.

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