BY TOM DALTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — Canal Street may not be the worst road in the city, but it certainly is in the running.
When there is a downpour, Canal Street floods so badly it is impassable. During bad storms, sewage rises from old pipes, requiring the street, sidewalks and businesses to be decontaminated.
This street has been known to flood even on sunny days when seawater comes up through storm drains during a moon tide.
There is one stretch of the 11/2-mile road, in front of McDonald’s restaurant, where the road is high in the center and so low on the outside lanes that cars actually tilt to one side like an amusement ride.
Help is on the way, however, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which hosted a public hearing last night on the $6.1 million Canal Street Reconstruction Project.
The state plans to rebuild the road, part of which rests on soggy peat from the old canal days; install new curbs and sidewalks; put in crosswalks, lights and trees; and make other improvements all the way from Washington Street near the downtown to the busy intersection at Loring and Jefferson avenues.
A path will be built along part of Canal Street for walkers and bikers. It will help connect the Marblehead rail trail to downtown Salem, officials said.
The project is currently in the early design stage, with construction slated to begin in 2014. That schedule could change, officials said, depending on the state’s priority list.
Before the road reconstruction begins, the city plans to install drainage pipes next summer that will lead to a pump station it plans to build in the future. The city wants to get that drainage work done before the road is reconstructed so it won’t run into the problems it faced recently on Bridge Street, where the road was continually dug up for one utility project after another.
“All the sins of Bridge Street, we’re trying to avoid,” Salem City Engineer David Knowlton said.
Even though the state plans to remake Canal Street, officials concede that it won’t fix the flooding problems. That will entail major construction to build a new pump station and water storage system and make other improvements estimated to cost $18 million. The city is investigating ways to fund that work, which likely is years away, Knowlton said.
But the roadwork is a start and will be a significant upgrade to a major entrance corridor, officials said.
“This is both exciting and daunting,” Mayor Kim Driscoll told an audience of about 50 residents and officials at The Enterprise Center at Salem State College. “Of all the entrance corridors, this one definitely is in the toughest shape.”
Several officials struck cautionary notes, hopeful this won’t be a repeat of Bridge Street, which was in an almost constant state of disrepair for two years before being finished this summer.
“We want this project to go much more smoothly ...” state Rep. John Keenan said.
Speaking on behalf of businesses, Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, stressed the importance of keeping traffic open during construction, which is expected to take 18 months. State officials said that is the plan.
The state also plans to improve traffic signals at both ends of the street, something residents said is needed.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.