PEABODY — The ground had to be delivered for yesterday’s $1.5 million Main Street Corridor Realignment groundbreaking, but that’s only because the project actually got under way in August.
So, it was a symbolic kickoff at the Peabody Institute Library, featuring Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, Mayor Ted Bettencourt, former Mayor Michael Bonfanti, state Rep. Ted Speliotis and various city officials speaking and pushing shovels into a pile of dirt that was subsequently carted away.
In places, including in front of the library, the new sidewalk is already done. Bettencourt has said this portion of the work will be finished by November, with plantings to be done in the spring.
Reading his speech to a gathering under a large canvas covering yesterday, Bettencourt reviewed the reasons for the redo, explaining that it’s an effort to slow down the traffic and coax more people to stop and visit downtown businesses.
“A safer and more attractive, pedestrian-friendly Main Street will encourage residents and visitors to take the time to shop and eat,” he said.
In addition, the project reduces the traffic on Main Street from four lanes to two, allowing sidewalk “bump-outs,” places where it’s expected people can cross more easily and safely.
“Peabody Square over the past year has had three pedestrian accidents, including one tragic accident that took the life of one of our residents,” Bettencourt said.
In September 2011, Maria Assuncao, 63, was killed after being struck by a truck at the intersection of Main and Washington streets.
Murray noted that the project, backed by significant state funds, began under Bonfanti as the first step in a larger plan, including flood mitigation and a traffic reroute in the square, costing an estimated $18 million. He stressed the need for business and government to work together in an effort like this.
To that point, the lieutenant governor quoted legendary football coach Vince Lombardi: “The only way to solve complex problems ... is to work as a team.”
The former Worcester mayor also commented on the progress Bettencourt has made after only nine months in office. “There are few I’ve seen hit the ground running faster than Ted.”
Bonfanti took to the podium to warn that times have changed and the downtown will never be the place it was generations ago, but he added, apparently referring to the many vacant stores and the lack of activity, “Look around you. Do you like what you see? Well, I don’t.”
He predicted improvement. “We can do better,” even as he warned that it would take time. “Just as Rome was not built in a day, it will take many years to bring the downtown back.”
And Speliotis seemed to underscore the importance of doing that, celebrating his native Peabody as “a city of neighborhoods” while calling the downtown “its heart and soul.”
Lots of cars pass the downtown every day, said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Deanne Healey. “We just need to give them a reason to stop.”
Several shovels were gathered for the occasion, reminding some of the late Mayor Peter Torigian’s office full of dozens of gleaming, stainless-steel, ceremonial shovels. Asked if he was beginning a collection of his own, Bettencourt smiled and said, “Absolutely. This is No. 2.”