By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Salem police and MBTA personnel redirected the steady trickle of cars that pulled into Salem’s commuter rail lot yesterday morning, unaware that the parking lots were closed.
The station’s 460 parking spaces were closed over the weekend, as the MBTA begins construction on a new $27 million parking garage and station in Salem. Parking will remain closed throughout the expected 14-month project.
Some train riders were caught unawares yesterday, despite outreach from the T and Mayor Kim Driscoll’s office. Others were confused by the new “kiss and ride” drop-off areas and changes to traffic patterns.
Salem resident Tara Osgood said she knew about the closure, came early to catch the train yesterday and was “shocked” to find street parking. She normally parked at the now-closed station lot.
“I was winging it,” said Osgood as she waited for a train just before 8 a.m. “We’ll see how it goes. I think (parking) is going to get worse. We’ll see how winter is ...(The new garage) will be good once it’s done.”
The city had hoped to have a 120-space lot available at the former Universal Steel site across from the station on Bridge Street, but weather and an environmental cleanup have delayed the project. The lot is not expected to be ready until mid-August or later.
As they waited for a 7:30 a.m. train yesterday, Salem resident Ann Marie Carr and Peabody resident Jean Berman said they felt the parking closure could have been better communicated.
“Nobody knows what’s going on,” said Carr, who said she’s commuted for 20 years. “It just feels like everything is being done backwards ... It could have gone much smoother if they just made the temporary lot (at the former Universal Steel site) sooner.”
Berman, who takes a taxi to the station every morning, said she had to explain to her taxi driver where to go yesterday morning.
The Salem Ferry had an extra 20 people on its 7 a.m. commuter run to Boston yesterday — 55 riders, an increase over the average of 35, said Alison Nolan, general manager at Boston Harbor Cruises. Commuters with Zone 3 MBTA passes are able to ride the Salem Ferry for free.
According to Driscoll’s office, the city’s downtown garage did not have more than the usual amount of cars yesterday. A 30-car lot at the former Alpha Auto Sales, which is next to Universal Steel on Bridge Street, was opened yesterday but was not full to capacity.
Two “kiss and ride” drop-off areas were set up midmorning yesterday, on the North Street overpass and on Bridge Street, by the station entrance, as well as a taxi stand on Washington Street.
Overall, yesterday’s morning commuter rush went OK, said Lt. Robert Precszewski, commander of the Salem Police Department’s traffic division.
Cars were allowed to drive into the station yesterday; MBTA personnel spoke to each driver and explained the parking closure. Starting today, the only cars allowed into the MBTA station will be vehicles that park in handicapped parking, said Precszewski.
MBTA buses will be re-routed out of the train station starting next week, according to the MBTA.
“It went smoothly. There were no accidents,” he said. “It looks like people are getting it ... It’s going to take a couple of days for everyone to know (the lot is closed).”
The handful of cars that were left in the station parking lot after it was closed Saturday won’t be towed for another couple of days. Police are giving the owners a few days, in case they’re out of town, said Precszewski.
Extra personnel from the MBTA, Salem police and City Hall were at the station during commuting times yesterday, helping direct traffic and explain the parking changes.
Fliers had been put on the windshields of cars parked at the train station last week, and the MBTA posted signage throughout the station alerting riders to the parking closure. The city of Salem and MBTA also posted notices on their websites.
An MBTA spokesperson said the agency received “very few complaints” yesterday. Driscoll and state Rep. John Keenan’s office said they had received no complaints, as of midafternoon.
For details on parking and construction, visit BuildingSalem.com, MBTA.com, salem.com or northshoretma.org.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.