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Projects to ease parking crunch

By Steven A. Rosenberg
Globe Staff / June 24, 2012
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At Wonderland Station, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new 1,485-car, seven-level, $53.5 million garage that will open on July 1. In Salem, state legislators secured an extra $5 million last week that will push the budget for a new Salem commuter rail parking garage to $37 million. And in Beverly, work on a $33 million, 500-car parking garage that will connect to the Beverly Depot will begin in the fall.

Adding more than 2,500 parking spaces for commuters has been a priority for the state for years, but a combination of decisions in recent years — including a court ruling that called for the MBTA to create new parking spaces, and the availability of federal stimulus funds — helped take the plans past the drawing board and make the projects real.

Work began on the project in Revere 19 months ago, and when it opens on July 1 the Wonderland garage will be T’s third-largest parking facility. The station has also been reconfigured, with commuters having direct access to the station from the parking garage. Buses will pick up and drop off passengers at the garage, in a covered area. In addition, workers are finishing up a plaza on the ocean side of Wonderland that will have a pedestrian bridge leading directly to Revere Beach. That $20 million project will be completed in the fall.

Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo believes the improvements at Wonderland will attract developers to build on Revere Beach and at the former Wonderland dog track, where 35 acres of land is now unused.

“It certainly sets up a great future of development opportunities down there. The parking garage is a key component in developing that site,” said Rizzo.

The city also has an agreement with Eurovest Development, which hopes to construct a hotel, condos, and an office building on almost nine acres of state-owned land just a few yards from Revere Beach Boulevard. To date, Eurovest has not begun any construction on the site.

With the garage and station project completed – and nearby Suffolk Downs competing for a casino license – Rizzo expects development to begin soon around the station. “Now it’s time for the city to step up and bring in private developers to reap the benefits of what we’ve sown here,” said Rizzo.

In Salem, residents will have a chance to review the proposed design for the new commuter rail garage on Tuesday, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Carlton School. Last week, the design changed when the state decided to add another $5 million to the planned $37 million project. The increased funds will allow for a fifth level to the garage, and raise the number of parking spaces from 553 to 715. The additional funding also will be used to preserve a signal tower now in disrepair at the station.

For decades, Salem officials have tried and failed to build a parking garage at the surface lot, which hugs the North River and fills up with cars by 8 on weekday mornings. The garage will have an attached enclosed-platform waiting area for commuters to access trains and buses.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll sees the garage as a necessity for commuters, who frequently are squeezed out of morning parking at the lot and have to jockey for open spaces on nearby streets. She also believes the city will develop a small crescent-shaped municipal lot on the grounds now used for parking. She said the city-owned lot could provide amenities for commuters, such as a restaurant or retail or office space.

But for Driscoll, the project’s bottom line is bringing more people into Salem. “It means having a more livable station, and makes us a more thoughtful and attractive destination for people looking to live here,” she said.

Work on the new T garage at the Beverly Depot will begin in October, and it’s a project Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon has been lobbying for for nearly 20 years. The three-story garage will be built next to the station on Rantoul Street, and will have an enclosed pedestrian walkway that will lead directly to the station. The planned garage adds 400 spaces to the station (currently, the T provides 100 parking spaces).

Like Rizzo and Driscoll, Scanlon believes the new garage will bring dollars to area businesses, as well as commuters who will want to move to the North Shore. “This is going to help our downtown economy,” he said.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.

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