Will the MBTA Garage Look Good or Be Comfortable?
Preliminary designs on $31 million garage offer tough choices, while Mayor and Legislators lobby for more funds to add fifth level.
About 98 percent of the funding for the new MBTA Salem Intermodial Station and Garage is committed to building the four-story garage, restructuring the site for buses, cars, bikes and pedestrians and raising the station platform.
But the MBTA wants to know if Salem residents want to spend the other 2 percent of the $31 million (about $650,000) allocated to the project on passenger comforts or beautification of the concrete garage at Bridge and Washington streets.
The 50 to 60 people who gathered Monday night at the Carlton School appeared to be evenly divided between comfort and beauty for the second busiest MBTA station. A few who attended refused to accept that only 2 percent could be spent on adding brick to the concrete, heating the waiting room or installing canopies against the stiff winds of the North River.
Dorothy Hayes voiced the complaint of about half the speakers, saying “I am disappointed in the design. I think we could do better.”
Jim Carey, apologizing to Hayes, said he wanted the money spent on passenger comforts.
MBTA project manager George Doherty and Jonathan McCredie, an architect with the Boston firm of Fennick McCredie, outlined several options designed to enlist where Salem residents placed their priorities for the station.
One option balanced passenger comfort and aesthetics with an enclosed, unheated 1,700-square-foot waiting room with minimal canopies to protect the passengers from the weather. The concrete garage in this option would have some brick facade, some concrete coloring and other design features to make the structure, which Jim Treadwell called “massive,” visually more
In another option that emphasized more passenger comforts, the brick facades and concrete coloring were jettisoned in favor of canopies over the train platform and along the pedestrian walkways.
Few seemed to like a third option that would incorporate more maritime features – faux ship masts – instead of passenger comforts.
Some speakers argued that the garage should emphasize pedestrians and buses over automobiles. Others said cars are essential.
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said she was “shocked” that more speakers were not advocating that the garage be enlarged to include a fifth level, which would increase the number of parking spaces from 555 to 710.
“I get calls all the time from people complaining that there is not enough parking in Salem,” Driscoll said. She noted that several parking spaces on Washington Street will soon go away when that street is expanded.
The mayor, state Sen. Fred Berry and Rep. John Keenan have been working for more funding to build the taller garage.
Project Wants $5 million More
Doherty said the project has requested an additional $5 million to build the fifth level and add some additional amenities, including canopies and restoring the old signal tower. He said he expects to hear a decision on the additional funding next month, before the next planned public meeting on the project scheduled for June 12.
One amenity that will not be included is public restrooms for passengers. Restrooms for employees will be provided, and passengers may request permission to use those facilities, Doherty said.
To add public restrooms would eliminate the enclosed waiting room.
Some speakers asked why the city parking lot on Bridge Street was not included in the site development. The mayor explained that there is a freight railroad right of way between the gravel city lot and the new station, which would “take an act of Congress, literally,” to remove.
She said the city would like to develop the lot into a mixed-use project that would compliment the MBTA station.
George Atkins, who heads the Salem Partnership, urged the MBTA to move the station design along as quickly as possible. He noted that the partnership has been advocating the new station since 1995.
The current timetable is to begin construction of the center in about a year and open it in September of 2014.