The project manager and architect for the MBTA Salem Intermodal Station and Garage got rave reviews Thursday night from a crowd of about 60 who came to the Carlton School to learn the latest plans for the long-awaited project.
Salem residents, particularly the 2,000 passengers a day who use the Salem station, will have to wait until April 9 to see what the garage and center may look like. Also at that hearing, the MBTA is expecting to know what the cost of protecting some historical structures on the site will be. Those costs may lower the budget for the center even more.
The current timetable is to begin construction of the center in about a year and open it in September of 2014.
With only a handful of dissenters, the crowd, many of whom have attended six or seven similar hearings on the project over the last eight years, praised the clarity of the presentation by project manager George Doherty and Jonathan McCredie, an architect.
“This is the first time we have had an adult conversation about this project,” one speaker said.
Most who heard the presentation were excited that MBTA had decided to build an enclosed lobby at the bus and train station. Others were unhappy that there may not be canopies covering the bus and train passengers. Many were disappointed that there seemed to be no money in the project to build more garage space for cars.
The plans, which are subject to change in coming weeks, would build a $30 million transportation center at Bridge and Washington streets that would have 553 parking spaces on four floors of the garage. The buses would operate in a circular driveway. There would be a separate driveway for dropping passengers off under the garage. And there would be a sloping pedestrian and bike bridge from Bridge Street at Washington Street to the lobby of the station.
After traffic consultants reviewed the intersection at Washington and Bridge, it was concluded that adding an entrance or exit there would “do more harm than good,” McCredie said. The intersection is already considered marginal because of heavy traffic flows.
The plans call for an upgraded traffic and pedestrian control light system at the current entrance to the MBTA station.
Mayor, State Officials Still Working on More Parking
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll called the proposed project “doable.” But she said the city and state have “not foreclosed the options of adding more (parking) spaces. Everyone agrees it is a better project with another deck,” she said.
A fifth floor would add another 130 parking spaces. The original plans called for 1,000 parking spaces, which have dwindled as funds for the project have dried up.
Funding for the project would come primarily from the state, although there are some federal and city funds. The MBTA's current budget woes would not affect this project, Doherty said.
The two wild cards in the project funding are the costs of building the garage foundation and excavating historic structures from the old railroad station.
The entire project is located on marine soil that is not stable enough to support a four-story garage, McCredie said. The plans are to drill pilings or stilts 60 feet below the surface to hit bedrock. The cost of drilling the posts that deep required that the parking garage be taller and skinnier, he said.
To add a fifth floor to the garage would require more pilings and a thicker foundation cap, Doherty said. Those additions would add a significant amount to the cost of the garage, he said.
The new garage would be built where the old train station was located. Ground-penetrating equipment have located the old roundhouse and turntable buried a few feet below the surface.
The plan is to excavate the site in April and May to determine what is there and how it should be treated. Ultimately the Massachusetts Historical Commission will decide how the old structures are handled, McCredie said.
Don't 'Snail Darter' This Thing
One speaker, David Pelletier, urged the MBTA not to "snail darter this thing.” He referred to the controversy in the 1970s when a dam on the Little Tennessee River was delayed by the discovery in the area of the snail darter, an endangered species.
The MBTA was praised for its sensitivities to making the new garage compatible with the architecture surrounding it. Although the garage will be largely made of concrete, McCredie described it as being built with mixed components.
Because the site is 18 feet below Bridge Street, the four-story garage will look from the streets like a two-story garage. McCredie presented computer simulations that showed the building will not be imposing at the street level.
When several speakers complained about not having canopies to protect waiting passengers for the trains and buses, Doherty said, “If we can have canopies, we will.”
He also told the crowd that the enclosed lobby may not be heated. He said he would have more information on hearing the lobby at the April hearing.
MBTA officials urged any one wanting to comment on the project to send it by email within the next two weeks to Doherty at firstname.lastname@example.org.