BY TOM DALTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — The MBTA opened last night’s public hearing on the planned $37 million upgrade to the Salem commuter rail station with something unusual for a community meeting: an apology.
A T official said they are sorry they gave North Shore commuters only a few days’ notice before blocking off 225 parking spaces in the main parking lot along Bridge Street due to archaeological fieldwork.
Beginning Nov. 5, motorists have had to arrive earlier than usual or make other parking plans since the 460 spaces at the commuter rail lot were cut almost in half.
“It was short notice,” said George Doherty, a project manager for the T.
It was unavoidable, however, Doherty said, because the MBTA got a permit later than expected from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to collect historical information on an old railroad roundhouse at the site, part of which is still buried underground.
The archaeology dig is expected to take several more weeks.
When the work is done, T officials said they hope to include the historical information on interpretive panels that will become part of the new station.
The good news, officials said, is that the project remains on schedule with construction slated to begin in the spring or early summer.
“We are, as of now, currently and still on track,” said project architect Jonathan McCredie.
The new garage is scheduled to open in October 2014.
The audience of more than 50 that attended last night’s meeting at Carlton School, the fourth design hearing on this long-awaited project, seemed generally pleased with the changes made by the MBTA and McCredie, who said he incorporated ideas suggested at past meetings.
“You’re building something that’s going to fit in with the very wonderful architecture of Salem,” said Dick Pabich, co-owner of The Salem Inn.
In one key change, a waiting room that was going to be built next to the garage has been moved inside the facility. The glass-walled room has views of both the train and buses and is larger than the original waiting area.
“It will accommodate more people more comfortably,” Doherty said.
Even with those improvements, however, several people in the audience were clearly disappointed it will not be climate-controlled.
“Right now, it’s a cold, cold barn in winter and a hot sauna in summer,” Councilor-at-large Tom Furey said.
MBTA officials said it would be too costly to put in heat and air conditioning, which would require installing bathrooms, raising additional security issues. They insisted it will be out of the wind and weather and much more comfortable than the present station, where commuters are forced to battle the wind and cold on the train platform.
The decision to put the waiting room inside the garage will result in the loss of a few parking spaces. The planned 715-space garage will now have “under 700 spaces,” officials said.
Other concerns were raised about safety and whether security cameras will be monitored by both transit police and Salem police. Several people worried whether lights at the top of the garage will glare into the McIntire Historic District and other neighborhoods.
One man said he hopes it won’t be like the Wonderland station garage in Revere, which “looks like the Las Vegas strip.”
The next public meeting on the project is scheduled for March.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.