BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Minor and modest? Or nightmarish?
Those descriptions represent two wildly divergent views of how the additional traffic created by a new shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue would impact the area.
And they are among the many pieces of information that voters will have to digest as they prepare to vote in the Feb. 8 special election on whether to uphold a decision by the City Council to rezone 3.6 acres of land on Brimbal Avenue.
The rezoning would allow a developer to apply for a special permit from the Planning Board to build a shopping plaza and would also trigger a $5.2 million interchange project.
Proponents of the rezoning, including former Mayor Bill Scanlon and Planning Board Chairman Richard Dinkin, have described the expected increase in traffic as “modest” and “relatively minor” and say it would be moderated by improved traffic flow resulting from the interchange project.
The North Beverly Neighborhood Association says a new shopping center, combined with traffic measures such as lights and roundabouts, “will surely create a traffic nightmare.”
Both sides have cited the same source to support their argument. Neighbors point to a traffic study by Jacobs Engineering that says a shopping center would generate an extra 305 automobile trips during a typical afternoon hour. Brimbal Avenue currently averages 1,319 vehicles per peak afternoon hour, based on a 2012 study, according to Jacobs Engineering.
But in a presentation at a public hearing in September, traffic engineer Rod Emery of Jacobs Engineering said only 30 of the 305 new vehicles would use Brimbal Avenue to get to the shopping center.
Emery said the 30-vehicle number is based on an estimate by traffic engineers that only about 9 percent of vehicles will use Brimbal Avenue to get to the plaza. The majority, 65 percent, would come from Route 128, he said.
In an interview this week, Emery said those estimates are based on population and trip data from the U.S. Census.
“There isn’t a strict formula,” he said. “It’s a mixture of engineering judgments and statistics.”
North Beverly Neighborhood Association member Dan DeAngelis called Emery’s estimate of 30 vehicles “crazy.”
“I can’t imagine those numbers are correct,” DeAngelis said. “It doesn’t take into consideration all of the people who are going to come from Route 1A from Hamilton and northward, nor from Essex Street and the Montserrat neighborhood, to get to the store.”
More importantly, DeAngelis said, those numbers don’t reflect the fact that, based on the last publicly available design of the Brimbal Avenue interchange project, all vehicles will have to travel on Brimbal Avenue to reach a shopping plaza entrance.
The design indicates that vehicles coming from Route 128 north will have to travel along a new connector road and go around a roundabout on Brimbal Avenue to reach a plaza entrance on the other side of the connector road. The other entrance to the plaza is on Brimbal Avenue.
“The way the project is designed, every car has to go onto Brimbal Ave. at some point, even if they only briefly get onto that rotary,” DeAngelis said. “That’s 300 cars — five cars per minute — that have to go into that rotary.”
Emery said the full impact of the 300 cars would be seen only in the immediate vicinity of the plaza, not on the residential ends of Brimbal Avenue to the north and south.
He noted that the state has not yet come up with a final design for the interchange project that will surround the shopping plaza. One early design included a traffic signal that would allow a left-hand turn from the connector road into the plaza, a design that would keep those vehicles off Brimbal Avenue.
“The (design) is changing daily,” Emery said.
DeAngelis said that even if there is a left-hand-turn access from the connector road into the shopping plaza, vehicles coming from any other direction will have to use Brimbal Avenue.
Scanlon, in an open letter to the citizens of Beverly in September, said the two roundabouts would improve the service level of the area from “F” to “A,” the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s highest ranking.
“In other words, traffic would be able to travel through the area much more safely, quickly and efficiently than it does today,” Scanlon wrote.
But the North Beverly Neighborhood Association says the traffic studies have failed to take into account the existing traffic problems at both ends of Brimbal Avenue, which both have a train station and an elementary school.
“Imagine what Brimbal Avenue will look like on your commute home with an additional 300 cars and several lights and roundabouts separating you from your driveway,” the group said on its website.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.