The Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee was established by the City Council in November 2013. Its goal is “…to meet monthly during the reconstruction of Brimbal Avenue, both Phase 1 and Phase 2, to receive updates on the project and to keep the residents of this area updated and informed.” The committee met last Thursday with Rod Emery of Jacobs Engineering, the consultant hired by the city to design the Brimbal Avenue interchange. The notes from that meeting are shown below, prepared by committee member Jen Morris.
The gist of this is: (1) We have phase 1 because phase 2 is too large and expensive, so better some development than none. NBNA questions, “Is this smart?” (2) Building on a multi-decade, unregulated landfill is full of trouble, which is common sense. Said trouble just now raising its ugly head, apparently. The MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering do not agree with the developer on how to address several problems. Even Mayor Cahill is uncertain over who pays for what. Regulatory permitting is escalating. (3) Traffic signal, or no traffic signal. Who knows? It seems to depend on who you ask and when you ask. Pedestrian safety and bike lane features will probably not be what you were expecting. (4) Current traffic study numbers are underestimates. Did not take into consideration grocery store versus general retail store, which makes a big difference. Did not take into consideration messy intersections already at both ends of Brimbal Avenue. (5) And the big shocker to some: Phase 1 is not really necessary. From a traffic flow standpoint, there is little improvement to moving the connector road with roundabouts 0.1 mile to the south. Installing roundabouts on the existing connector road would provide nearly the same traffic benefits. At one point it was hoped that phase 1 roadways would directly connect to phase 2 roadways. But not now. So, again, why phase 1?
Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee Notes
From the meeting on Thursday, January 23, 2014
The Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee members are: residents Dan DeAngelis, Molly Benson, Matt Kelsch, Judy Martin, Jen Morris, and Arlene Schlegel; Don Martin, the Ward 5 City Councilor; Denise Deschamps, Beverly’s Economic Development Planner; and a representative from the Beverly City Engineer’s office.
Special guest for meeting: Rod Emery of Jacobs Engineering, the City’s consultant for the roadway design.
City Officials in attendance: Mayor Mike Cahill; Paul Guanci, City Councilor At-large; David Lang, Ward 1 City Councilor; Don Martin, Ward 5 City Councilor; Matt St. Hillaire, City Councilor At-large; Jason Silva, City Councilor At-large.
History of the plan as told by Rod Emery
- In 2009 an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) was sent to the state for review and comments. There was no funding and the project sat for a couple years. The original plan used the existing connector road and was one project. The original project was a $20 million plan. They were not able to get the project on the TIP program.
- Secretary of Economic Development Bialecki said that money would be available for phased improvements. Mayor Scanlon asked what was possible to accomplish with $5 million. $5 million gave us the Phase 1 plan. The Phase 1 plan was created over one year ago. Mayor Scanlon believed that commercial businesses in the area would be willing to develop with improvements made to the interchange area.
- MEPA was approached for a Phase 1 waiver to help expedite the process.
- City knew there were plans from Cohen and began speaking with him about land swap.
- The original Phase 1 plan would have brought access to Route 128 by building a connector road on the Sunoco station property directly connecting to the Brimbal roundabout. It was stopped because there were wetlands in the area and a possible vernal pool and MassDOT did not want to deal with that. (Lang stated that the Conservation Commission was never approached about this idea.)
- Bialecki was told that there were 4 possible businesses in the area that would expand with a Phase 1 project: CPI, Cell Signaling Technology, Beverly Hospital and the new shopping plaza.
- In 2012 new traffic studies were conducted. They added regional growth at 0.5% a year for 7 years and new projected traffic from the 4 projects. The traffic numbers were created using general retail numbers and not a grocery store. (Grocery plans were not known at the time). The traffic numbers would increase for grocery.
- Trip estimates used peak evening times which do not account for North Shore Music Theatre traffic. DOT looks at NSMT as a special event so those numbers do not have to be considered.
- 25% plans were submitted in August 2013. They had comments and needed an approved right of way plan. There has been discussion back and forth on the design and changes and therefore a public hearing has not been scheduled yet.
- CEA Group already had an order from DEP on how to proceed so the city was using their information.
- CEA has two companies working for them: Tetratech for the site plan and Hadley and Aldrich for the landfill.
- The state would own the roadway at the end of the project. The city would be building the road.
- Emery reiterated the benefits of roundabouts over signals (less queuing with roundabouts) and emphasized that roundabouts are safe.
The landfill is problematic for building a road
- MassDOT does not want to deal with the landfill. Their assessment is that the land is not strong enough for the road and it would cost significantly more than the current $5 million budget to prepare the landfill for the road. Due to the landfill nature of the property, there is a settlement problem in that the land is subject to sinking as the landfill materials decompose.
- According to MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering soil will absolutely need to be removed from the landfill site. (Some will likely need to be handled as hazardous waste.) DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) wants 15,000 cubic yards removed to create basin for drainage system. Soil would also need to be removed to shore up land to support the road. (TBD whether it is 2 feet, 4 feet, or the whole thing that would need to be removed.) DEP also said that anything excavated will need to be taken off site. (The landfill has 4-5 feet of clean fill on the surface right now.)
- CEA has stated that they feel they can pound the existing soil down and place fill over it. MassDOT and Jacobs disagree.
- MassDOT and Jacobs say there will need to be expensive geotechnical solutions to address the settlement problem of the soil, such as geopiers.
- The $5 million MassWorks budget does not include the costs of removing soil or providing the extra supports necessary to prepare the land for the road.
- If the land swap goes through, according to Cahill it is TBD who pays for landfill costs, what counts as landfill costs (e.g. soil removal and geotech support for road), and what the legal commitment/agreement would be. The aim is for the developer to pay for these costs.
- The landfill land we would get from the developer would not actually be cleaned up, it would merely be prepped to be able to handle a road. While some soil will be removed for the purposes of the road, there will be no formal remediation or capping of the landfill for environmental reasons.
- To build the road on the landfill will require a Landfill Permit for a major modification. (CEA previously received a landfill permit for a minor modification, but that would not be applicable to the road plan.) This permitting process will take time, will require the testing of soil, and there could be additional conditions that would need to be met to move forward with the road.
- The Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee has still not received several environmental testing results (a 21E from 2004; Jacobs 2009 EIR; results from CEA’s quarterly testing). (Lang emphasized the need to get those reports.)
Pedestrian safety is a concern
- Emery confirmed that the current plan has a signal at Herrick St. but said that could be removed if funds become an issue.
- Emery confirmed that there will be NO signals for pedestrians to cross the street. The crosswalks are planned at the roundabouts, so pedestrians will have to cross 4 lanes of roundabout traffic without a pedestrian signal. As of now, to cross halfway and wait to cross the other half, pedestrians will only have lane stripping to protect them in the middle (that is, no raised pedestrian island in the middle).
- The state has no policy for multiple lane roundabouts with bike and pedestrian crossings. Still discussing whether islands should be added on pedestrians crossing so they have a place to stand in the middle of the street.
- Emery said the bike lanes will really be the road shoulders and it is unlikely that any bike symbols will be painted on the ground.
There are issues with the traffic study
- The traffic study was based on “general retail”. We now know the development would include a major grocery store, and “grocery” is a much larger trip generator than retail and commercial development. Putting that into the study would increase the number of vehicles forecasted.
- The traffic study did not take into consideration traffic from the North Shore Music Theater, which would combine with shopping center traffic after 6 p.m. during events.
The Phase 1 plan we have been presented is NOT the only alternative that would work for the area
- Emery confirmed that the connector road does not need to be moved. Traffic and safety improvements can be made in its current location, on the existing footprint.
- The main reasoning behind moving the connector road was an initial plan for the road between Brimbal and the Phase 2 off-ramp to directly connect to the Brimbal roundabout (where Sunoco is now—the plan was to “take” Sunoco by eminent domain), and then diagonally connect to the Phase 2 rotary at the top of Otis Road. However, MassDOT shut that plan down because it would require the road between Brimbal and Otis to go directly through wetlands. So the alternative was to have Phase 2 connect to Brimbal by using the full length of Otis Road, and having a traffic signal at the intersection of Otis and Brimbal. Since the plan no longer connects Phase 1 and Phase 2 at the Brimbal roundabout, there is no real reason to move the connector road. Emery said that MassDot likes the added queuing length, but that it is not necessary. Emery said the main reason for sticking with moving the connector road was the land swap with CEA.
- Emery also noted that he personally liked a signal at the Brimbal/Connector road intersection, since the rotary raises challenges for the Sunoco station and the gasoline deliveries. However, MassDOT pushed for a roundabout there.
- Emery did not deny that the City could have pursued Phase 2 first.
It is clear that the whole city needs to be better informed before any decision is made.