BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Construction is scheduled to begin in three months on the new Salem commuter rail station, a $37 million project that has been on the drawing board for years.
When work crews start mobilizing in June and July, the station will remain open and operating, but life will change dramatically for the 2,200 daily commuters who make the Salem station one of the busiest in the MBTA system.
“We are going basically to take this whole site,” Ryan Jennette of Consigli Construction of Milford, the general contractor, told the 70 people who attended a public meeting last night at Carlton School.
The 340-space T parking lot will shut down, and the smaller city section of the lot will be used by buses and for passengers with disabilities.
Motorists will have to find alternative parking, which will mean using city garages and lots or heading to other T stations.
The city hopes to have a temporary, 112-space lot available at the former Universal Steel property on Bridge Street, but that project is moving more slowly than hoped.
Vacant buildings have been razed, but an environmental cleanup is “taking a little bit longer than expected,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said last night.
The mayor said the Universal Steel cleanup should be done in mid-May, which leaves a “tight timeline” for getting it paved and ready by the time construction begins across the street.
The commuter rail station will have two pedestrian entry points throughout construction, one from Bridge Street and another off Washington Street, where the current staircase eventually will be replaced by a temporary structure.
Pedestrian access is important since almost half of the commuters who use the station arrive by foot, according to officials.
MBTA officials were asked if new pedestrian pathways will be built as part of the station project. Entries have been suggested from North Street (Route 114) via HMA Car Care Systems, from Leslie’s Retreat Park and across the tracks to the Jefferson at Salem Station housing development.
T officials say they have ruled out the track crossing even though there are a number of existing crossings in Beverly and at other commuter rail stations.
“If there’s a chance of an incident, we want to avoid it,” said Manny Vieira of the MBTA.
Driscoll said the city is studying possible new pedestrian entry points, including some that cross over a seldom-used freight line.
“The city is working to identify what those pathways are, who owns them and how to get them accessible,” she said.
The new Salem station will have a five-level garage with 690 spaces, an unheated waiting room and an elevator. It will also have a high-level platform so commuters can step directly onto trains without going up steps and a pedestrian bridge from Washington Street.
T officials were asked — as they have been at past meetings — if the facility will have bathrooms, and the answer remains the same — “no.” In emergencies, commuters can ask the manager to use his bathroom, an official said.
Several people praised the design of the concrete and brick garage by Fennick McCredie Architecture of Boston. The architects, who credited suggestions from Salem residents for many of the improvements, have included glass, steel, textured concrete and, notably, an image of the wheel of a locomotive from the old Salem roundhouse on a side of the structure.
Granite from the foundation of an old roundhouse that stood on the site will be used in a North River viewing area and in a pedestrian plaza. There also will be interpretive panels telling the history of the historic railroading site.
The new station is scheduled to open in October 2014.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.