To the editor:
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” These words were spoken on air by a network anchor played by Peter Finch in the acclaimed movie “Network,” and “woke” a city to demand action from their government. The situation on Highland Avenue demands a similar response from the citizens of Salem.
With the closing of Union Hospital in Lynn, the steady flow of ambulances traveling from Lynn to Salem Hospital is increasing every day. How many of us have been stuck in traffic with an ambulance approaching and nowhere to go? To borrow a lyric, well sort of, from the Steelers Wheel anthem, guardrail to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you. Evidently no one with any political clout or will has faced the Gauntlet (a nod to that memorable Clint Eastwood movie) that is Highland Avenue.
Back in 2007-2008, during my tenure as president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, I created and chaired a task force to study Highland Avenue and offer recommendations for improvements. Tom Dalton, the once-storied beat writer at the Salem News, even did a feature article on our findings. Well, that kind of fizzled and died. Mass Highway did do a Phase 1 study a few years later and I sat on that working group as well. Some good ideas came from this group, but 10 years later we are no further along.
In the meantime, hundreds and hundreds of units sit along First Street, with more on the way, yet emergency vehicles can’t get there without doing the roundabout at Market Basket or Trader’s Way. We all know how the traffic backs up there. I live in a neighborhood that is cut off by the same guardrail that blocks emergency access to First Street, enduring the daily hazard of trying to get home from work without someone rear ending me as I wait like a sitting duck at the end of this rusted relic from the 1950s.
We all hear how seconds save lives. Tell that to the family that makes a 911 call and has to wait a few extra minutes for help to arrive. What can be done you say? Well, if you ask the mayor, she will say that it is a state road and the city has no jurisdiction. To that I say we have a state senator, a state representative, city councilors, and a mayor who could all get on the phone to Mass Highway and the District 4 director and get them to address this public safety crisis. We should not have to wait for a death or other tragic event, surely to be followed by the usual handwringing and more talk about what a tragedy it was but that nothing could have been done to prevent it. No, something can be done and must be done.
A simple short-term fix that will not require major reconstruction of Highland Avenue, although that should be the long-term goal, is to remove the guardrail (can anyone tell me why it was put there in the first place) and curbing and replace it with a raised traffic berm similar to what runs down Main Street in Peabody. If I recall correctly, that was a change to the original plan (a raised granite curb traffic island) that was recommended by the Peabody Fire Department so that emergency vehicles could get through in the event of a traffic backup. If something like this ran down Highland Avenue, then emergency vehicles would have a clear path through from the Lynn line to Salem Hospital. Breaks in the traffic island could be created to allow left turns across Highland Avenue where it is safe to do so, thus cutting down on traffic that is now forced to travel in one direction only to reverse direction a short distance down the road.
I’m hoping that my fellow Salemites will join in an incessant chorus of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” until our elected leaders get the message and take some meaningful steps to deal with this mess.