Peabody to seek grant for Main Street upgrade
After years of planning and debate, Peabody has developed a compromise plan for road realignment and streetscape upgrades along a 1-mile stretch of Main Street from Peabody Square to Howley Street at the Salem line.
Officials say the goal is to make the street safer for pedestrians and motorists and to spur greater activity in the downtown, benefiting local businesses.
The City Council on Aug. 25 authorized the city to apply for a $1.5 million state grant to fund the project.
The vote was conditioned on councilors approving the technical design, which is now being finalized by the city’s engineering firm, Green International Affiliates.
“I think it has the necessary support and we do hope that the state will help us out,’’ said Mayor Michael J. Bonfanti. “In the end, everyone will benefit. It will fix the safety problems and certainly improve the appearance, and do what we are trying to do in bringing back our downtown area.’’
City planner Nathan Jones said the city was submitting its grant application to the state’s MassWorks Infrastructure program in anticipation that councilors will approve the final plan.
If the city receives the grant and approval from the state Department of Transportation to amend an existing traffic control agreement, work could begin in the spring and be completed by November 2012.
The project calls for reducing the number of travel lanes from four to two. Since designated left-turn lanes would be added along much of the corridor, the street would effectively become a three-lane road, Jones said.
The plan also calls for new curb crossings, a pedestrian island, a short median strip in front of the public library, planters with new street trees, and enhanced crosswalks.
Jones said the Main Street corridor has seen “an alarmingly high’’ number of accidents, citing police figures that between 2005 and this year, there were 377 accidents involving motor vehicle collisions, and 19 accidents involving vehicles striking pedestrians, bicyclists, or skaters.
He said the state has listed the intersection of Washington and Main Streets as one of the most dangerous in Massachusetts.
“We want to make this as pedestrian-friendly as possible to avoid any future tragic incidents involving people getting hit, and to reduce the number of car accidents,’’ Jones said, noting that a common feeling in the city is “you take your life in your hands when you try to cross Main Street.’’
He said some of the enhanced safety will come from reducing traffic speeds. But it also would result from changes in street design that will minimize the jockeying that goes on as motorists seek to make turns or access parking spaces.
Jones said the city hopes the safety changes and the enhanced look of the street also will provide a boost to local commerce.
“The way the traffic volume flows doesn’t lend itself to someone attempting to stop and actually be a patron of one of our local businesses,’’ he said.
At recent public meetings, residents raised some concerns, including the fear that the project could result in an influx of traffic into neighboring streets and that it would not address the need for more parking
But Jones said traffic studies show that the project would result in a smoother flow of traffic on Main Street, and officials do not believe it will cause motorists to use side streets.
He said the plan involves losing several parking spaces and in general is not directed at parking. But he said the city is separately working to ease the crunch by designating more short-term spaces in its municipal lots.