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Two commuter-rail garages set to open in Beverly, Salem

MBTA project manager George Doherty at the new Beverly parking garage, which will open to the public on Aug. 2.
MBTA project manager George Doherty at the new Beverly parking garage, which will open to the public on Aug. 2.(Steven A. Rosenberg for the Globe)

After decades of lobbying, obtaining funding, and finally breaking ground, work is winding down on the two most expensive MBTA commuter-rail parking garages ever to be built in the state, with Beverly’s garage slated for an Aug. 2 opening, and Salem’s set to open on Oct. 10.

The projects, which cost $78.6 million, are being constructed to take commuters’ cars off the roads and provide more parking spaces at Beverly Depot and in downtown Salem — the two busiest commuter rail stations on the Newburyport/Rockport line.

“The T spent a lot of time with the architects, with the community in both locations, as well as the government officials to make sure that we provided a facility that the community wanted, the customers wanted, and that we wanted,” said T project manager George Doherty. “So I think we’re getting the best of everything for the public.”

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Added T spokeswoman Kelly Smith: “We appreciate the patience that our customers have given us, and I think that that will be worth it in the end. It will provide better service for people for years to come,” she said.

For years, harried commuters have risen early to jockey for parking spaces at the Salem and Beverly stations. Now, T officials believe that commuters will find a space every day at the new garages. In Beverly, the new four-floor, 500-car garage — partially built on an old 130-space parking lot — will add a net total of 370 new parking spaces for commuters. In Salem, the new five-story garage will hold 715 cars, a net gain of 365 spaces.

The planned opening of the Beverly garage will be at least seven months later than scheduled, according to Doherty. Administrative processing of paperwork took longer than expected, he said. In addition, the discovery and disposal of contaminated soil on the site slowed the project, along with frigid winter temperatures, which delayed work.

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In a tour of both sites, Doherty explained the bells and whistles that commuters will encounter. Both stations will be fully handicapped-accessible, and will have security cameras that can be seen by police if a person pulls an emergency call button on a floor. Each station will have designated charging stations for electric vehicles and spaces for Zipcars, and the roofs of the garages will be equipped with snow-melting machines. The Beverly garage will also have solar panels on its roof, creating electricity to power some of the garage.

Beverly’s brick-and-glass garage will bring the commuter directly to the rail platform at the Beverly Depot. The garage will have two entrances, on Rantoul and Court streets. Commuters will walk along a covered 200-foot-long pedestrian walkway that includes a 40-foot stretch over Court Street.

The T is also planning further development on the site. Doherty said that in the fall, the T will seek proposals from developers to build a six-story structure in front of the garage, which is set back 60 feet from Rantoul Street. Developers will also have the option of building on the top floors of the new garage, said Doherty.

Mayor Mike Cahill of Beverly said he is looking forward to the August opening. “The garage will be a great asset to the community and support Beverly’s downtown renaissance,” said Cahill.

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In Salem, workers have completed most of the brick-and-concrete garage, and are focusing on building a new 30-foot-long pedestrian bridge that will connect Bridge Street and the garage. The covered bridge, which will serve as the main entrance from downtown Salem, will bring commuters inside the garage, where they will have the option of taking the steps or elevator down to an enclosed waiting room. From there, they will have a 50-foot walk to a raised platform, allowing people to walk directly onto trains rather than climbing steps. Work on raising the platform an additional 4 feet is slated to begin soon, said Doherty.

The new platform will provide easier access for people with physical disabilities. Until now, wheelchair users in Salem have had to roll up an additional ramp at the far end of the platform in order to board trains.

Doherty said the T also plans to get bids in the fall from private developers to repair and reuse a 30-foot-high brick hut at the station that was used as a signal tower. “It could be used as a coffee shop,” he said.

Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem said she was pleased with the construction progress and believes the garage will help boost the local economy.

“This long-awaited facility will provide additional parking capacity, multi-modal transit access for our region, and a more pleasant and humane waiting area for train passengers,” said Driscoll. “It will also offer a better welcoming point for the many thousands of visitors to our city who arrive via the commuter rail. Now that we have a completion date from the MBTA, the conclusion of this significant project is on the horizon and I am sure many in our community are eager to make use of the new facility.”

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Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.
com.