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Meeting on Salem MBTA garage project tonight, some commuters concerned about early handling of project

Posted by Ryan Mooney  November 13, 2012 09:32 AM

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On Monday, Nov. 5, the MBTA closed a sizeable portion of the current parking lot at the Salem commuter rail station, about 225 spaces lost, for required excavation. Some commuters have expressed concern over the MBTA's handling of the situation, specifically its methods for alerting customers who use the lot on a daily basis.

The MBTA and the city of Salem tonight will hold the next in a series of meetings regarding the $39 million overhaul of the commuter rail station that will add, among other amenities, a 715-space garage on the site of the current parking lot.

One topic that has surfaced in the past week and that may be brought up at the hearing is the dissatisfaction of commuters with the way they were informed that more than 200 parking spaces would be unavailable for six to eight weeks starting last Monday due to excavation.

The public hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Carlton Elementary School on Skerry Street. MBTA officials will give schedule updates, as well as present the most recent designs for the development, which are about 60 percent complete.

Public response to the project, which is slated to begin in the spring, has been mostly warm. The project amounts to what is essentially a complete overhaul of the current station, not only by adding 375 parking spots, but also providing commuters with an indoor waiting area, an elevated track with intermittent canopies for weather protection, a footbridge from Washington Street to the platform, and bike storage.

But a number of people have reached out to the Globe over the last week to express concerns over the MBTA's handling of early lot work.

Last Monday, commuters arrived at the current lot to find a large, fenced-off area in the middle of the lot. The MBTA must excavate part of the lot as part of the project's environmental review and permitting process, all of which must be completed before construction can begin. The work reduces available spaces from 340, to about 115 for the next six to eight weeks.

The T announced the partial closure of the lot on November 1, three days (one business day) before the fence went up and after many commuters had already purchased parking passes for the month.

"LAZ Parking, which manages that parking facility, is in the process of contacting those customers who have purchased monthly parking passes," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email. "The customers are being offered refunds or the option to park at another commuter rail lot."

Some customers are steamed.

"I have already contacted them but only after spending about 20 minutes on hold to reach a live person to get the information on where to send my request," Steve Abbiuso, a Salem commuter wrote in an email last week detailing his experience since finding out about the closure. "LAZ thought a good way of contacting us was to leave flyers on our windshields...given their method of information sharing, you can understand my skepticism on a quick turnaround."

One issue being pointed out by commuters is the amount of available parking at nearby commuter lots, which is less than usual. The closest commuter station to Salem, the Beverly Depot station - one of the busiest commuter rail stops on the entire transit system - is undergoing a similar transformation to that of Salem. On November 5, the same day that the Salem lot closed partially, the Beverly lot, which holds about 100 vehicles, closed entirely.

But communication, or lack thereof, is the real sticking point among upset T customers.

Barbara McLaughlin, who commutes to her job at Mass. General Hospital each day, arrived on November 5 to find the lot closed off, unaware it was happening until she saw it with her own eyes.

"This was so poorly handled," McLaughlin wrote in an email last week. "None of us who park there were informed and a notice, with no header, was left on the windshields, melted from the rain...looking like a marketing add which said when the parking lot is closed."

Those who are having trouble with parking are encouraged to reach out to mbta@lazparking.com with questions and concerns, and can also share concerns with project managers at tonight's meeting, which will provide time for public comments and questions.

Ryan Mooney can be reached at globe.mooney@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.

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