It's been six years in the making and it all starts Monday for Main Street.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt announced this week that he has given the green light for construction to begin Aug. 13 on what will be a . The project aims to increase safety for pedestrians and motorists, improve traffic flow, beautify the busy thoroughfare and in turn encourage commerce downtown.
The most dramatic change that will occur is reducing the four travel lanes back down to two with a center turning lane from Washington Street intersection down to Howley Street.
Proponents of the improvement plan generally argue that won't have a negative affect on traffic while skeptics are just that, strongly arguing that traffic will spill over onto side streets because Main Street will become so congested.
Before the Peabody Square rotary was removed 20 years ago and Main Street was converted into four lanes, it was just a two-lane street and a lot safer, according to some city councilors.
Bettencourt adopted the redesign project as a top priority during his campaign and now his first term in office as one key piece in revitalizing the downtown.
"Four lanes has not helped Peabody Square, it's just seen [the square] continue to deteriorate and clearly some bold action needed to be taken," said Bettencourt, noting that is part of the flood mitigation project.
“This project marks a new day for the city of Peabody,” he said in a press release. “This is a critical step towards revitalizing the square and attracting more people and business to our historic downtown. Our goal is to make the shops and restaurants more accessible, and to improve parking and pedestrian safety.”
“Any plan to restore downtown Peabody has to start with pedestrian safety,” he said, adding that Main Street has long been used as a high speed cut-through to the or major highways, making it decidedly dangerous for pedestrians trying to cross the street. "This project not only improves traffic flow through the square, but it also encourages people to get out of their cars and explore the downtown on foot.”
He said the the downtown already has some "great restaurants, shops and community events" and there's more to come. "People are going to be pleasantly surprised at what the future holds for this key area of Peabody’s economic and cultural growth.”
Bettencourt said work will start with the sidewalks on one side of the street near , go all the way down to the Salem line and then tackle the other side of the street, moving back toward the square. In addition to reconstructing the pavement, bump-outs will be added to elongate existing crosswalks and increase pedestrian safety.
Bettencourt said a detail officer will be on duty during construction, which will likely last for several weeks, and traffic on one side will likely be reduced down to one lane to allow enough space for equipment. Specific notices will be issued for anticipated traffic delays and alternate routes once the actual lane reconfiguration begins.
Bettencourt said he, Community Development Director Karen Sawyer and President Deanne Healey have gone door-to-door to businesses in the area and will continue to do so as the project goes on.
"I think everybody understands there's going to be sort of growing pains," he said, adding that the final project, however, will be a big improvement.
Some of those features include upgraded and synchronized traffic lights for better flow, designated left-hand turning lanes, wider sidewalks that are also ADA compliant, traffic medians, roomier parking spaces, crosswalks with brick pavers, designated loading zones, better lighting and more trees.
The project is being financed with a and a $500,000 grant from the Peabody Community Development Authority, which Bettencourt received last month. He says the construction can still be completed this year, .
The general contractor for the project is A.R. Belli, Inc. of Newtonville. Some updates will be posted by the city at www.peabody-ma.gov.