SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 5, 2013

Questions and answers on Brimbal Ave. project

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — There were plenty of questions and lots of confusion when more than 100 people attended a public hearing related to the Brimbal Avenue traffic improvement project this week at City Hall.

Following are answers to some of the questions the public may have as the project moves forward.

What is the Brimbal Avenue project?

The project is a plan to improve traffic flow and safety in the area of Brimbal Avenue and Route 128, while at the same time opening up land to development that would generate more tax revenue for the city.

The project has been talked about for more than a decade but has been stalled due to lack of financing. The estimated overall cost is $25 million.

Plans finally began to move forward when the project was broken down into two phases in an attempt to get things started with a less costly Phase 1.

What is Phase 1?

The major feature of Phase 1 involves relocating the connector road — the road that connects Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue — about 400 feet south, toward the Northridge Homes complex. Proponents say that will improve safety by creating longer storage lanes for vehicles, which sometimes back up onto Route 128. The intersections of the connector road with Sohier and Brimbal would be constructed with roundabouts, eliminating the current dangerous left-hand turns.

Others elements of Phase 1 include widening a portion of Brimbal Avenue near Route 128 to four lanes and installing a traffic signal at the intersection of Brimbal Avenue and Herrick Street Extension.

Phase 1 is estimated to cost $5.4 million. The city has applied for a grant through the state’s MassWorks Infrastructure program, which pays for public infrastructure projects that create jobs and economic development.

What economic development would Phase 1 create?

According to the city’s 2012 application for a MassWorks grant, Phase 1 will lead to a $20 million investment by the CEA Group to build a shopping plaza, called North Shore Commons, on land between Brimbal Avenue and Sohier Road. The application also says the project will improve access to Beverly Hospital. Because of that, the application says, Lahey Clinic is “very interested” in making a $95 million investment on the hospital campus and has “shown real interest” in building, at its own cost, a new connector road from Brimbal Avenue to the hospital campus through undeveloped land. But Beverly Hospital officials have said there are no immediate plans for expansion.

Won’t all the development create more traffic?

According to the Expanded Environmental Notification Form filed by the city and MassHighway on the project, development generated by Phase 1 would put 10,010 more vehicles on Brimbal Avenue, Sohier Road, Tozer Road and the connector road by 2017. But Mayor Bill Scanlon says those numbers include potential development at Beverly Hospital that is now uncertain, and that the actual increase will be much smaller. Scanlon said the shopping plaza would generate eight more trips per hour during peak morning hours and 30 more trips per hour during peak evening hours.

Instead of moving the connector road and spending $5 million, couldn’t they just put a traffic signal at the intersection with Brimbal Avenue?

Scanlon said a traffic signal would not prevent vehicles from backing up onto Route 128.

“You’d just have a mess,” he said.

Explain the land swap between the state and the shopping plaza developer.

The state wants to move the connector road to land now owned by the CEA Group of Cambridge, so the state has proposed swapping state-owned land closer to Route 128 for the land owned by the CEA Group. CEA would then build a shopping plaza next to the highway. First, however, the City Council must vote to rezone the current state-owned land. That proposal drew major opposition from residents at Tuesday night’s meeting at City Hall.

Why doesn’t the CEA Group just build a plaza on the land it owns now?

They will if they have to, said Tom Alexander, the lawyer representing CEA. Alexander said the company will build the plaza on its current land if the rezoning proposal does not go through. Its current land was rezoned by the City Council in 2009 to allow for retail. Alexander said CEA agreed to the land swap with the state because it would improve traffic access and safety in the area, but the development is not contingent on the land swap.

“One way or the other, (CEA) is going to propose basically the same development,” he said.

Has there been a public meeting on the overall Brimbal Avenue project?

The state held a public meeting on Friday, June 28, at 10 a.m. at City Hall, but with the weekday morning time and little public notice, very few people attended. The meeting was advertised in the MEPA Environmental Monitor, a state publication.

What is Phase 2?

Phase 2 will include building a bridge over Route 128 to connect Brimbal Avenue and Dunham Road. The plan is designed to take traffic off Brimbal Avenue, while also making undeveloped land on both sides of the highway more attractive for development. Scanlon says it could generate enough development to create 7,500 jobs and $8 million per year in tax revenue for the city, enough to pay for a new police station and catch up on road paving throughout the city.

How much will Phase 2 cost?

An estimated $19 million. The city plans to pay for it by earmarking $7 million in tax revenue from new development created by the project, another $7 million from developers whose land will be made more valuable by the Phase 2 work, and a second MassWorks grant of $5 million.

When would Phase 2 begin?

Richard Sullivan, the state’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, has said Phase 2 “will not occur in the foreseeable future.”

How is Phase 1 connected to Phase 2?

Scanlon said Phase 2 cannot be done unless Phase 1 is done first, because all of the traffic improvements tie in together. He also said revenue generated by Phase 1 development will help pay for Phase 2. So, if the rezoning of the state land does not go through, the entire Brimbal Avenue project will be killed, Scanlon said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.