Beverly Mayor William Scanlon likes projects, and what comes with them.
“I like generating new growth,” said Scanlon, who said that those revenues are important for municipalities operating under the restrictions of Proposition 2½, which limits property tax increases but allows added revenue from new development.
“We’ve done pretty well with new growth. We’ve averaged more than a million bucks a year over the last 15 years, but this could be a real surge.”
This year, Beverly will move forward with a project that could significantly change the city’s physical and fiscal landscape, as well as its traffic pattern.
A new Brimbal Avenue interchange upgrade would create commercial opportunities and bring new growth and revenue to the city while actually reducing the traffic impact in surrounding neighborhoods.
In November, the city received a $500,000 state grant to cover the “soft costs” such as permitting and final design of the first phase of a two-phase project.
The project, when complete, would expand the footprint of the interchange, add traffic lights and other safety features and provide direct access to the highway from the North Shore Music Theatre neighborhood, while creating potential commercial or housing opportunities all around it.
At his State of the City address in February, Scanlon said the project “has the potential to create as many as 7,500 good new jobs over a five- to 10-year period for people living in our region.”
Beverly commuters travelling on Brimbal Avenue are well aware of the issues that arise at Route 128’s Exit 19. At rush hour, traffic entering Sohier Road and connecting to Brimbal Avenue can spill back onto the northbound lane of Route 128. When shows finish at the North Shore Music Theatre, local traffic backs up as police direct long lines of automobiles from the Dunham Road neighborhood across Brimbal and directly onto Route 128 south.
The proposed interchange would alleviate those issues, while creating access to land for development.
“I know Mayor Scanlon would like for this to happen under his administration,” said state Senator Joan Lovely, who is working with Sixth District state Representative Jerry Parisella and Scanlon on the project. “It’s a real priority for him, and will open up all kinds of economic opportunities for some land over there that really isn’t easily accessible right now.
“It seems that most of the Beverly community is behind it,” said Lovely.
Lovely noted, however, that some residents have raised environmental concerns, which she said need to be considered.
The project will require no zoning changes, but some parts of the second phase will need approval from the state and the city’s Conservation Commission.
Pam Kampersal is a spokesman for the Clean Drinking Water Alliance, which has opposed the project. She has several objections, chief among them that the project could adversely impact nearby watersheds, and potentially the city’s water supply.
“I know this a project that [Scanlon] would like to see done before he leaves office, but I’m telling you it’s a project that needs careful consideration,” Kampsersal said. “It would upset the balance of the environment in that area.”
Scanlon said the city “will pay full attention to all of the rules and regulations as we pursue the project.”
The mayor said he anticipates work on the first phase of the $25.5 million project to begin this year. In addition to the $500,000 received in November, the mayor said he is optimistic that the city will receive another $5 million later this year, and begin construction.
“It will take approximately a year to finish that, and then it might be 18 to 24 months after that before we can line up phase two and get it physically started,” Scanlon said.
In phase one, the access road linking Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue would be moved away from the highway onto land that is now undeveloped, parallel to the current access road. It would eliminate the backups onto Route 128, while also creating a development opportunity on land near the access road. Traffic lights would be installed on either end of the access road, and improvements would be made on Brimbal Avenue from the Route 128 overpass to Otis Road.
Phase two includes the building of an overpass over Route 128, north of Brimbal Avenue, linking Otis Road to Dunham Road and including new access ramps to and from Route 128 near what is now a rest area. That $20 million project will create access to several acres of land that could be used for housing, commercial, or other uses, without changing existing zoning or impacting any neighborhoods.
In fact, by creating direct access to Route 128, it will take traffic off the Dunham Road neighborhood and Brimbal after theater events.
“With this overpass, whether you’re gong north or south on 128, you can get to either side of the highway without driving on local roads,” Scanlon said. “There are over 200 acres of land — one-third on the music theater side and two-thirds on the other side — that is going to be made accessible and open to development by this project.”
“The Brimbal Avenue overpass project is supported by many business groups in the region because it will provide an opportunity for economic development in an area of the city already zoned industrial,” said Parisella, via e-mail. He said he lives “about 5 minutes” from the area in North Beverly.
“This will provide tax dollars to fund projects like the new middle school and public safety building. It will also create jobs in the area, both short-term in construction and long-term from the businesses that will locate there,’’ Parisella said.
“It will also provide relief to the neighborhood from the significant traffic problems associated with performances at the North Shore Music Theatre.”