The Beverly Economic and Community Development Council met at the Beverly Public Library on Wednesday night to discuss Mayor Bill Scanlon's plan to apply for a fairly recent and seldom-used state program to fund a redesign of the Route-128 interchange at Brimbal Avenue. The project is expected to cost between $20 and $25 million.
The program - the Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program, or I-Cubed - was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in June of 2008 with an initial investment of up to $250 million for an unspecified number of projects. House leaders in May brought a bill before the legislature that would increase this number to $400 million.
The plan is to begin the application process for I-Cubed in September.
According to Beverly City Planner Tina Cassidy, the dated interchange at Exit 19 on Brimbal Avenue is in the bottom 20 percent of all state interchanges in terms of safety based on the number of accidents that occur there. The project would not only address safety concerns and alleviate traffic by reconstructing the access ramps and putting an overpass from Brimbal Avenue to Durnham Road, but also provide direct access to about 200 acres of largely vacant industrial land next to the highway, which a handful of different companies have shown preliminary interest in developing.
The challenge for the city is to prove to the Commonwealth that infrastructure improvements would directly result in an economic boost, which - along with job creation - is a major factor in I-Cubed eligibility. Scanlon and city officials are confident that the project will far exceed these requisites.
"I think the groundwork is essentially pretty well established for us to assume that there will be some embrace of this plan," said Neil Douglas, vice chairman of the ECDC. "That the expectation is that the state will seek to try to accommodate this plan through the I-Cubed methodology."
Cassidy believes that a project of this magnitude is required to help generate the kind of tax money that can help the city make other infrastructure improvements and rebuild the middle school, among other things.
"I think it has a ripple effect, for sure," Cassidy said.
Scanlon speculates that naysayers have been scarce because of the possibility of reduced traffic both on and off the highway as a by-product of the project despite further development of the area. New buildings on the parcels of land adjacent to the highway would have direct access, whereas currently residential roads are unavoidable. The overpass would also help alleviate the traffic caused by performances at the North Shore Music Theatre on Dunham Road.
"It's hard to find a reason not to like this project," Scanlon said. "There'll probably be someone fight it but I don't know who or why."