, Salem, MA


May 22, 2014

Our view: Road decision leaves Beverly in the lurch

The announcement last week that state officials have rejected Beverly’s plan to build a new Route 128 connector road atop a closed landfill on Brimbal Avenue felt like the final shoe dropping.

After years of talk, and months of high-intensity debate followed by a voter referendum, it turns out the project cannot be carried out the way it was planned. A land swap that the city had requested — allowing the connector road to be built on a closed landfill and enabling a large shopping center, anchored by Whole Foods, to be built nearby — is now off the table.

At what feels like the last minute, given the city’s determination to have this project fully designed and permitted by the end of the year, the state has decided that the landfill route is unsafe.

So, despite good intentions all around and a visionary idea for economic development, the project has been upended. And now, it seems, there are more questions than answers about what happens next.

A new connector road will be built, but in the same place as the existing one. This time, it will have roundabouts at both ends, which should eliminate the risky left-hand turns that drivers now have to make coming off the highway and onto Brimbal Avenue. It would seem to do little, however, to address traffic backups on Route 128, which was the main reason that proponents argued the road had to be moved in the first place.

Also unclear is the city’s grasp on the $5 million economic grant it has secured for this project. Right now, city officials say the grant is all set, but they also say it’s crucial to have this fully designed and permitted by November. That’s because a change in administration when a new governor takes office could mean a change in priorities for that funding. That is worrisome because if we have learned anything from this process, it is that rushing to get something in the pipeline can lead to problems.

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