SALEM — Today's notable birthdays include actor Patrick Swayze, NFL tight end Jeremy Shockey, comedian Denis Leary — and the Salem bypass road.
Yes, it was a year ago today that a group of city and state dignitaries officially cut the ribbon on the road that connects the Salem-Beverly bridge to downtown Salem.
It took decades to complete, cost $15 million and is a fraction of the size once imagined. Originally, it was meant to take drivers from Route 128 all the way to downtown Salem. Still, today it's a 1-mile straight shot in and out of the downtown.
That "straight shot" element of the new road had initially sparked police concerns over speeding and reckless driving.
Police, however, reported about six crashes on the bypass road over the last year.
"There was certainly an initial adjustment period, and I think there was some extremely poor driving on the road at first, some seriously elevated speeds," said Salem police Capt. Brian Gilligan. "But I think there's been a substantial amount of enforcement on the road. ... Hopefully the enforcement we're doing is contributing to the road being safer."
There are still lingering issues over noise, particularly the influx of cars in a neighborhood still getting used to the idea of a major roadway cutting through.
But for drivers looking for an easier way in and out of the downtown, the bypass road seems to have delivered.
"I think overall the bypass road has been a great success in terms of diluting the traffic on Bridge Street," said state Rep. John Keenan. "There are still issues with noise and motorcycles — I can hear them from my backyard as well. But overall, I think it's been a big success."
At Coffee Time Bake Shop, owner Rob Liani wasn't about to whip up a birthday cake to commemorate the bypass road's big milestone. It's been a mixed bag for his and other Bridge Street businesses, he said.
"Our regular customers find it easier to get here. They're not worried about the traffic," said Liani. "But because of the signage, we don't feel we're getting exposure to potential new customers and tourists."
Business has remained about the same, but Liani is particularly bothered by what he considers poor signage on the Salem-Beverly bridge that fails to direct drivers to Bridge Street. One of the big green signs simply tells motorists that a left turn will take them to "Swampscott 1A" without mentioning Bridge Street, Salem Willows or Pickering Wharf.
A smaller sign alerts drivers to the Bridge Street business district, but Liani says it's difficult to notice, especially for tourists.
Despite repeated letters and other complaints to MassHighway from the local businesses, the state refuses to alter the signs, Liani said.
"We've really gotten stonewalled by the state on the signs," said Liani.
A MassHighway spokesman did not return a phone message yesterday.
Some relief is on the way, however. The state is moving forward on a beautification project for Bridge Street, including upgrades to the streets and sidewalks of Bridge Street Neck.
Meanwhile, there are still reminders that this is indeed a very new road. Try plugging in directions to downtown Salem on Google Maps and you'll find no record of the bypass road and an old satellite image showing the road still under construction.
Then there is the minor issue of what to call the new stretch of pavement. Street signs call it the "Bridge Street Bypass," many locals just call it the "bypass road." Mayor Kim Driscoll proposed officially naming it the "North River Greenway" last year, but city councilors opted instead to hold a citywide naming contest.
That prompted a wave of suggestions from citizens ranging from "Witchy Way" to "Blubber Hollow Boulevard" to the nonsensical "Hello Good By-way."
The naming contest seems to be on hold for now. The council doesn't have the matter scheduled for any of its upcoming meetings.
Not that it might matter anyway.
"It's been so long now, what are we going to do, change it now?" wondered City Councilor Joseph O'Keefe. "It's ingrained in people's minds."
Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org