It’s difficult to tell North Shore commuters looking at a year or so of disruption in their daily lives to “grin and bear it,” but that may be the best option for the next several months.
On Saturday, Salem’s sprawling commuter rail lot shut down to allow workers to begin construction on a new $37 million station and parking garage. Work is expected to take 14 months, and the 460-car lot will be closed for the duration.
That’s a major upheaval for thousands of North Shore residents, many of whom work in Boston but were drawn to Salem and its surrounding communities by its ready access to commuter rail.
“It will be disruptive,” Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll told reporter Tom Dalton last week. “We are doing our best to manage through it and provide alternatives.”
Already, there have been complications. A longer-than-expected environmental cleanup has delayed the opening of a lot at the old Universal Steel site across the street from the station on Bridge Street. And once it opens sometime in August (or later), it will fit only 120 cars. Suggestions that commuters use the North Beverly or Montserrat stations don’t take into consideration that those spots are already dealing with overflow from people who regularly use the Beverly station, which is getting a new garage of its own.
Under the best circumstances, the morning commute will be longer and more expensive for the next several months.
But here’s the thing: The work absolutely needs to be done. There’s a desperate need for a modern train station and more parking in that part of downtown, not just for commuters to Boston, but for people looking to come to Salem for business or pleasure. The city, with its mix of municipal and civic buildings (including the new J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center), historic attractions, restaurants and shops, has become a North Shore hub, one that has outgrown its current train station.
So some patience will be required on the part of commuters, and some open-mindedness, as well, when it comes to using the short-term solutions the city and the MBTA are putting together, piece by piece. For example, there’s a free, 30-spot lot at the former Alpha Auto at 309 Bridge St. There are also spots at Leslie’s Retreat Park. The Universal Steel lot should be up and running before the summer is over, and two “kiss and ride” areas will be set up for commuters getting dropped off at the station. And commuters with a Zone 3 pass can take the Salem Ferry in to Boston.
Yes, the next several months will likely be a little more difficult. With a modern train station, however, the next several decades will be much better.