, Salem, MA

February 5, 2014

Letter: Finding a better way

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

The closer we get to the vote on Brimbal Avenue, the murkier the issues become. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and find a better way.

What are the city’s goals and priorities?

Are we trying to relieve the traffic on Dunham Road when the North Shore Music Theatre is playing? If so, some variation on Phase II does that. Phase I has no impact on Dunham Road.

If we are trying to prevent cars from backing up onto Route 128, the 500 feet of additional exit road will only act as a buffer for 20 or 25 cars. (Pretty expensive parking at $5 million!) Phase II can be designed correctly to do a better job.

If we are trying to accommodate Whole Foods, they would be better off on the land behind the HoJo/Burger King plaza, which already has access to Route 128 and in Phase II has a connection to Otis Road for Beverly shoppers.

If we are trying to improve traffic flow on Brimbal Avenue, the intersection with Enon and Dodge streets should be the first priority.

We need to get the numbers straight!

About 1,750 seats at the North Shore Music Theatre imply about 700 cars trying to get in through two rotaries in an hour and out in 15 minutes. Similarly 7,500 jobs north of Route 128 imply 7,500 cars going through the rotaries twice a day at rush hour. (A 300-foot-diameter rotary will be full to capacity with about 16 cars.) The solution for the Sagamore Bridge and Bell Circle was to remove the rotaries. Coming out of Gloucester on Washington Street to get on Route 128 or out of Methuen on Route 113 to get to Route 93, I experience long backups. Rotaries are not a cure-all and they have a limited range of effective operation.

We need to sort out the real issues from the distractions.

There is a difference between building on a structurally soft landfill and leaching or exposing hazardous waste. The CEA property has been tested three times by three different engineering firms and none has identified “hazardous waste.” The firm remediating Varian acknowledged there was nothing leaching downhill from Brimbal Ave. to their property. So the “risk” and the “promise to pay for cleanup” are red herrings.

Without a source of funding or a firm commitment to start, Phase II continues to be a teaser but in reality has been a figment of somebody’s imagination for 10 years.

We need to recalculate either the capability of rotaries to handle 7,500 jobs/cars going in and out of the Cummings development north of Route 128 or the real number of jobs developed.

Where’s the benefit to the city?

Mr. Cohen and Cummings Properties bought their respective pieces of land in anticipation of developing them commercially, which is neither illegal nor immoral. I think it’s naïve to expect these choice locations (relative to Route 128) to lie fallow forever. Any good businessman would be derelict not to seize every opportunity to enhance his investment. But as several commenters have already questioned, is it the city’s responsibility to enhance their investment or to pick winners? Will the anticipated tax revenue disappear in a TIF (Tax Increment Financing)?

Now what?

It is incumbent on the city to plan for a harmonious transition. This is where the problem lies. We should take the time to step back and give the Brimbal Avenue interchange and the new access off Route 128 some careful scrutiny that is open to input from all stakeholders. We are still getting too many changes in the magnitude of additional traffic to make a decision. Other open questions need to be explored. Such as:

Why not enhance the ramps at Route 22 and approach the North Shore Music Theatre and Cummings property from the east?

Why is all the cost that benefits commercial development borne by the taxpayers? (If the developers won’t invest in infrastructure is the project really viable?)

If the administration won’t reset the process and it takes a no vote to get the message across so be it.

George Binns