By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Jayme Havens and her 4-year-old son, Joseph, anxiously waited for a chance to cross the busy street yesterday afternoon as cars sped past.
Even after the traffic light changed, they hesitated for several seconds in the cold near the Salem Depot.
They weren’t sure if it was safe to cross what some have called the most congested intersection in town — Routes 28 and 97.
“It’s crazy and busy,” the 34-year-old Salem woman said. “It’s always very busy.”
The town is beginning a project that has been under consideration for years. When it’s finally complete, sometime in the next several years, residents and business owners are hoping the intersection will be much safer and less congested.
Salem community development director William Scott told selectmen this week that $195,000 in design work has begun at the controversial intersection. About 30 percent of the design has been completed, he said, the remainder will be wrapped up by November.
The state Department of Transportation will reimburse the town for $156,000 of the cost, or 80 percent, Scott said. He did not say when construction would begin.
Scott asked selectmen if a Salem Depot subcommittee would be revived to oversee the project, expected to cost more than $2.5 million. They decided against having a subcommittee. The town completed a major redevelopment of the Depot area a couple of years ago.
Once the intersection is redeveloped, left-turn lanes would be provided at approaches to the intersection. The town’s proposal also calls for two through lanes in each direction on Route 28 and a single through lane in each direction on Route 97.
The turn lanes are expected to provide much smoother traffic flow. Traffic signal improvements are also planned nearby.
Havens said as a Salem resident, she welcomes anything that can be done to reduce traffic and improve safety at the busy intersection.
Local business owners also said they would appreciate the improvements.
“There are accidents here all the time,” said Anthony Duffy, manager of Londonderry Piano at 20 North Broadway. “Sometimes, people don’t even brake.”
Although the speed limit in that area is 30 mph, motorists are usually traveling much faster, he said.
Duffy said they frequently tell their music students to be careful when turning out of the parking lot.
“It does make us nervous,” he said.
Susan DiFraia, owner of Studio 9 Hair Salon at 9 North Broadway, said she likes having her salon in a busy commercial area.
“But, on the flip side, people avoid this area because of the traffic,” she said. “It is very congested. It is hard to get in and out of the parking lot.”
Donna Morris, executive director of the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce, said it’s hoped the new intersection will improve safety and encourage more customers to stop off at local businesses.
Morris works in the former Depot train station at 81 Main St. She said the surrounding area has been nicely redeveloped, including the addition of Tuscan Kitchen and Tuscan Market, but traffic is a major problem.
Last year, selectmen granted approval for the widening of the intersection of Main and Pleasant streets with the goal of reducing traffic near the Depot.
Morris said she often gets stuck in traffic and welcomes the proposed improvements.
She praised the recent construction of an access road near Tuscan Market that links Main Street to North Broadway via Willow Street, reducing congestion and improving traffic flow.
“There has already been a lot of good work being done here,” Morris said.