By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — For 50 years, Daisy Cleaners has served residents at 14 S. Broadway. Sugar & Spice Bake Shoppe has been at 4 S. Broadway for nine years.
Now, both may be forced to move as the town begins a major reconstruction of the intersection of Routes 28 and 97.
Representatives from the engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin presented plans for the project to selectmen Monday night. The project, first proposed more than 20 years ago, is expected to reduce traffic and improve safety at the heavily congested intersection.
But to eliminate the lines of cars backed up there each afternoon, several business properties may be taken by eminent domain, depending on the project’s scope.
Those businesses include Daisy Cleaners and Sugar & Spice.
When Sugar & Spice opened on South Broadway, owner Brian Costa knew he would have to move his business someday because of the much-anticipated road project.
The building, which he leases, may be torn down to make way for the widened roadway.
“You have to move, you have to move,” Costa said yesterday. “It is what it is. Whatever happens, happens.”
Daisy Cleaners and a handful of other businesses may have to relocate as well, depending on whether a sidewalk and raised median are built.
But selectmen, except for Patrick Hargreaves, said Monday they didn’t think the sidewalk and median were necessary. They agreed with James Keller’s suggestion that enough space be left so a median could be added in the future if needed.
Jim Desjardins, owner of Daisy Cleaners and vice chairman of the Salem Depot redevelopment committee, said he has come to terms with the fact he may have to relocate his family’s longtime business.
“Am I excited I have to move? Not really,” he said yesterday. “But if that’s what it takes to help — to make that improvement, then that’s just what I will do. My business will be OK.”
Costa, Desjardins and other business owners and town officials say there is so much traffic at the intersection and in the Depot area, it poses a serious safety hazard.
“People feel like they are taking their lives in their hands,” said Al Raymond, owner of DeColores Books & Gifts at 34 N. Broadway.
Desjardins agreed there is a serious problem.
“To see traffic backed up on a daily basis is troubling,” he told selectmen.
It also affects sales, the merchants said.
“We’re all losing business there,” Raymond said.
Costa said a lot of his customers complain about the traffic.
“People don’t want to get out of the traffic to pick up a cake because they know they will never get back in,” he said. “(Route) 28 is getting to be a mess.”
The plans call for left turn lanes to be added to each side of Route 28 because motorists have trouble pulling in and out of store parking lots, according to Martin Kennedy of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.
Although less than a 10-foot-wide swath of property would have to taken, the town would be forced to purchase entire parcels or face possible litigation, selectmen said. The businesses could not operate because most of their parking would be eliminated.
It has not been decided which buildings would be taken by eminent domain.
The reconstruction of Route 28 is expected to cost at least $1.5 million, but buying several properties could push that figure to more than $3 million, Selectman Stephen Campbell said. It could include anywhere from one to four or five properties taken, he said.
The $3 million does not include the cost of any improvements to Route 97, Campbell said.
Eighty percent of the project cost would be reimbursed by the state Department of Transportation, according to Town Manager Keith Hickey.
More designs and environmental studies are needed before the construction goes out to bid in 2015. Construction is expected to begin later that year, but the timetable is still uncertain since legal battles over land takings could delay the project.
Hargreaves said the project has been debated so long, he won’t believe it’s been done until he sees its completion.
“We’ve been talking about this since 1991,” Hargreaves said. “If it ever happens, I will be in my grave.”