BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — More than a year ago, a sign went up next to a vacant lot on Franklin Street: “All Day Parking $4.” Although the small lot is right around the corner from the MBTA commuter rail station, virtually nobody has parked there.
Business is expected to pick up, however, after the T shuts down the Salem station parking lot Saturday to begin construction of a new, $37 million station and parking garage.
During the 14-month construction period, the 460-space lot will be closed to cars, leaving commuters who drive to the station scrambling for parking or alternative ways to Boston.
“There’s been a whole lot of talk about it,” said Michael Coleman, a Salem resident who takes the train to work. “People are already starting to scope out other places to park.”
The parking options are limited.
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 an environmental cleanup has taken longer than expected. The lot is not expected to be ready until mid-August or later.
A small lot at the former Alpha Auto Sales, which is next to Universal Steel on Bridge Street, should be ready by Monday, but that holds only 30 cars. The city has created another lot in Leslie’s Retreat Park that can be accessed from Commercial Street. Parking is free at these temporary city lots.
Paid parking is available at other city lots and parking garages, some of which offer long-term passes. The city is not encouraging commuter parking in the Museum Place or South Harbor garages, however, because they are heavily used by downtown workers and tourists.
The MBTA had been advising commuters to use other commuter rail lots in North Beverly, Montserrat and Swampscott, but officials now say few spaces are available.
Space is available at the Lynn T garage near the corner of Route 1A and Market Street, officials said.
The city has teamed with the North Shore Transportation Management Association to inform commuters about commuting and parking alternatives. Information is available at northshoretma.org. The website also lists bus routes to the Salem depot.
“We’re here to tell you all is not lost, because there are options available,” said Andrea Leary, executive director of North Shore TMA.
TMA officials are encouraging commuters to use the Salem Ferry. Zone 3 commuter rail passes will cover the ferry fare on the 7 a.m. commuter ride to Long Wharf in Boston and the 5:30 p.m. return trip. There is free ferry parking at the Blaney Street landing, which is off Derby Street.
Even with these options, officials realize that closing a major train station parking lot is going to create problems.
“It will be disruptive,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “We are trying to do our best to manage through it and provide alternatives.”
Officials stressed that while the Salem station is closed to motorists, it will remain open for handicapped parking, buses, bikes and pedestrians.
Two “kiss-and-ride” areas will be set up for commuters getting dropped off near the station. They will both be on Bridge Street, one near the intersection of Washington Street and the other near the motor vehicle entrance to the Salem depot. Those areas will be cordoned off and, at least for the first few days, overseen by police.
The pedestrian stairway from Washington Street will be closed beginning Saturday, but a new stairway will be open a short distance away on the Bridge Street ramp to the North Street overpass.
The Salem station, one of the busiest in the commuter rail system, is heavily used by pedestrians. With that in mind, the T and city are making improvements to the heavily traveled and poorly maintained pedestrians access paths and sidewalks. For example, there will be an “enhanced crosswalk” on Bridge Street by the main motor vehicle entrance, officials said.
Police are expected to be out Monday to make sure motorists don’t park illegally on streets near the station.
For those with eagle-eyes, there are a few options close to the station. HMA Car Care, for example, which is on the corner of Franklin and North streets, has limited commuter parking for $5.
It’s right around the corner from the $4 lot, which has about 30 spaces.
“It’s definitely a resource,” Craig Burnham said of his Franklin Street lot, “small as it is.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PARKING FOR SALEM T STATION
Salem train station: Closed to motorists for 14 months beginning Saturday
Construction updates: New station to open in October 2014. For updates on project, go to BuildingSalem.com and MBTA.com.
Access during construction: Limited to buses, pedestrians, handicapped motorists and bikers.
Free city parking: Available starting Monday at 30-space lot at former Alpha Auto, 309 Bridge St. Beginning in mid-to-late August, 120-space lot next door at former Universal Steel on Bridge Street. Also parking at Leslie’s Retreat Park, which can be reached from Commercial Street.
Drop-off: Two “kiss-and-ride” areas on Bridge Street near Washington Street intersection and main entrance to station.
Taxi stand: Near corner of Washington and Federal streets