SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 25, 2013

Downtown fix near end of the road

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — A weekend paving operation has brought the renovation of downtown Peabody near to completion.

The $2 million transformation of Main Street will likely be done, save for small corrections, within the next three weeks, according to city planner Blair Haney. All that remains is construction of an island in the center of the street, laying blocks for crosswalks and applying striping to help drivers adjust to the new traffic configuration.

“I’m excited,” said Haney, who has worked closely on the project. “It’s going to be a real improvement.”

Local merchants remain hopeful, but nervous, about the results. Despite outreach from city officials and detailed descriptions of what’s coming, there remains unease about how it’s all going to look and function in reality.

Such doubts might be understandable, because changes in the plan have been made all along the way, with multiple people promoting multiple visions. “That’s what this project has been,” said Deanne Healey, president of the Peabody Chamber of Commerce, “nothing but compromise.”

For example, she discouraged the notion that the renovation will funnel four lanes of Main Street traffic into two.

“The road’s not getting any narrower,” she said, pointing out that in some places, drivers turning off Main Street will have their own lane. That allows through traffic to proceed unimpeded.

Lamentably, the center islands will not feature any landscaping, as first envisioned.

“It’s more of a raised median,” Healey said. The design change was a compromise achieved with the Fire Department, which wanted the ability to ride its apparatus over the barrier in an emergency.

At the same time, the median will maintain its purpose of allowing pedestrians a safe place to stop and survey the traffic. Pedestrian and driver safety were key in all these changes, but enriching the downtown atmosphere, making it a “walking environment,” is a hoped-for byproduct of that, Healey said.

A strong booster of the plan, Healey admits to feeling some tension regarding the final result.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, either,” she said.

Arthur Gordon, who helps manage a large portion of downtown property, is upbeat.

“It’s just about over,” he said yesterday.

And, watching late-morning traffic make its way down Main Street, he noted, “It’s moving just as well as it was before.”

Guy DeAngelo at the Music Box on Main Street is cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t know if all the issues have really been addressed,” he said. “They didn’t ask me.”

He worries in particular about drivers approaching Peabody Square hoping to turn right onto Central Street. That traffic backs up already, he said.

Still, DeAngelo said, “They did a great job. It looks wonderful. And there’s been very little disruption.”

Bill Woods Jr. of Patrick J. Woods & Co. Insurance, also on Main Street, is glad to see the work nearing completion, though he, too, said, “I don’t know how it’s going to work out.”

Employee Lorraine Cone noted that it’s been many years since the city converted Main Street from two to four lanes.

“(Peter) Torigian was mayor then,” she recalled, and there’s been a substantial increase in traffic in the years since.

Meanwhile, the experience during construction should bode well for the project, as Haney reports no complaints from drivers trying to pass through to Salem via Main Street, although there were brief periods when traffic was impacted.

Likewise, Healey said she drove through the downtown at least twice a day during construction and suffered no significant delays.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.