By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — A controversial plan to convert a stretch of South Central Street to one-way traffic goes into effect tomorrow, despite the objections of city councilors, as well as residents and businesses in that part of the city.
Beginning at approximately 5:30 a.m., South Central Street between Central Square and South Chestnut Street will be restricted to one-way, eastbound traffic. In conjunction with the change, new traffic signals at the intersection of Route 125 (South Main Street) with South Central Street, Ferry Street and South Pleasant Street will be placed into flashing mode, according to state transportation officials.
Since last summer, the City Council has voted three times to oppose the change while business owners and people who live near the square rallied against the plan at several public meetings.
Merchants and property owners have said the change would hurt business and lower real estate values, while residents expressed concerns it will lead to more traffic on narrow residential streets behind the square because of motorists seeking other ways to reach Route 125.
City Councilor Robert Scatamacchia said the council recently asked the state to keep the traffic pattern on South Central two-way. He said the state informed the city that the change to one-way travel would be taking place and that it was based on traffic safety studies based on the redesigned Central Square.
“I don’t agree with the state,” Scatamacchia said. “Making South Central Street one-way will cause more problems than it will solve.”
Restricting traffic to one-way on a stretch of South Central Street is part of the state’s massive reconstruction of Route 125, which included redesigning and rebuilding Central Square for improved traffic flow. State officials have said keeping South Central Street two way, once the new traffic light is activated, would cause Route 125 to back up all the way to Salem Street near Bradford Common during peak traffic times in the late afternoon.
“I don’t think the change is needed to address a safety or congestion issue,” Scatamacchia said. “I think it will create more traffic problems on side streets such as South Chestnut Street. That’s my opinion, and only time will tell.”
State officials said that as part of the change going into effect tomorrow, drivers heading westbound on South Central Street destined to Route 125 (South Main Street) will be directed at South Chestnut Street to turn left and use other available routes.
That traffic includes about 30 Coppola company school buses, which will have to travel through congested neighborhoods they previously avoided.
Susan Bellerose, office manager for Coppola Bus Inc., which provides school bus transportation services for Haverhill, said a flashing sign on South Central Street has been warning drivers about the impending change in the traffic pattern. Bellerose said morning buses will now have to travel down South Chestnut Street to Doane Street, passing by the Sacred Hearts schoolyard and out to Route 125, or out an alleyway to South Kimball Street to Ferry Street, and onto Route 125.
“They don’t like us to use Inland Street to Route 125 as it’s not wide enough to make the turn,” Bellerose said.
The change to one-way traffic on South Central Street required moving a Haverhill High School bus stop that was next to the Papa Gino’s restaurant to South Kimball and Ferry streets.
“We sent notices home with them last week and the kids have been pretty good about it,” Bellerose said. “We also have to change our route to Sacred Hearts because of the congestion on South Chestnut. It means we’ll have to drive further into the neighborhood.”
“Hopefully the state will change it back as that’s what we fought for,” Bellerose said. “We wanted it (South Central ) to stay two-way and so did neighbors and businesses. It’s too tight over here as it is. We’ll have to drive on streets that are narrow and congested.”
Bellerose said that when kindergarten parents at Sacred Hearts pick up their children between 2 and 2:30 p.m., Coppola school buses may have to travel on South Pine Street.
“It’s something the neighbors won’t like,” she said.
City Councilor William Macek said the state was unwilling to address the concerns that were raised about changing South Central Street to two-way traffic.
“They believe their design expertise and traffic expertise is superior to our local knowledge of the area and what goes on,” Macek said. “School is almost out, there are no snow piles, and neighbors will still have to zig-zag their way to South Main Street. The state never reviewed the impact this would have on the neighborhood. They just decided to build it according to plan and if problems arise to have us bring them to their attention then make changes after the fact.”
Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for MassDOT, said appropriate signs, channelizing devices and traffic control measures will be used to guide drivers through the reconfigured intersection. He said traffic on Route 125 (South Main Street) or Ferry Street destined to South Central Street will not be affected by the traffic pattern change.
The $13.1 million project to reconstruct Route 125 between the Basiliere Bridge and Boston Road is more than 80 percent complete, officials said. The work includes installing new and upgrading existing traffic signals, making drainage improvements, full depth pavement widening, installing new granite curbing and cement concrete sidewalks, adding new signage as well as striping and restorative landscaping.
Verseckes said MassDOT encourages drivers to reduce speed and use caution when traveling through the reconfigured intersection.
For transportation news and updates visit MassDOT online at www.mass.gov/massdot.