HAVERHILL — Although the City Council approved the 290-unit apartment complex for the former Ornsteen Heel site in Bradford, questions linger as to what kind of impact it will have on traffic in that already heavily congested area.
At the May 25 council meeting, the Procopio Companies of Lynnfield received approval to move forward with a $100 million construction project that in addition to 290 waterfront apartments, will feature an expansive public park with an amphitheater, a boardwalk and connections to the Bradford Rail Trail.
As part of the project, called "The Beck," the developer is making plans to improve traffic flow in the area and will invest $2.5 million in upgrades.
Council President Melinda Barrett, the lone dissenting vote, expressed concern about traffic near the project.
“What happens when they replace the Basiliere Bridge?” Barrett asked of a project planned by the state in several years, which will force more traffic onto the Comeau Bridge and into the area of the Procopio Companies complex.
“What happens to Bradford?’’ Barrett said, sharing concerns about traffic congestion. “It becomes an island you cannot get off of. And it’s also a food desert ... We don’t have any supermarkets.”
The long-awaited replacement of Haverhill's Basiliere Bridge isn't expected until 2024, and by then the Procopio project is expected to be fully occupied.
Councilor Michael McGonagle said it is hard to say no to the kind of traffic improvements that are envisioned as part of the project, based on something that may happen three years down the road.
"It would be very shortsighted to use this as the only criteria to say no, when there is so much good about this development to benefit the whole city," he said. "There is traffic there now, and they will be introducing a 290-unit development, but what they are trying to do is alleviate some of the issues that are there today. The changes will make it a safer intersection."
During the May 25 council meeting, Robert Michaud of MDM Transportation Consultants in Marlborough, said the Procopio Companies hired him to find a traffic solution for this unique intersection that would benefit the community.
He said that in his own experience, it is a dangerous intersection because of a lack of visibility for drivers and that he nearly got into an accident.
He said the solution his company developed came about after consulting with various city departments, including the Fire Department, and noted that the city won a $1.9 million MassWorks grant for making improvements. The Procopio Companies are chipping in more than a half-million dollars as well, Michael Procopio said.
Michaud said the plan includes realigning Railroad Avenue where it meets the Comeau Bridge and South Elm Street so that large vehicles such as MVRTA buses and fire trucks exiting Railroad Avenue can turn right onto South Elm Street without having to swing into the opposing lanes and blocking traffic as they do now.
He said Laurel Avenue will also be realigned so that vehicles can more easily make a turn at the train overpass and continue on to Railroad Avenue or onto the Comeau Bridge. Pedestrians and bicycle riders will also see safety improvements with the addition of traffic signals and bike lanes.
The end of Blossom Street, where it meets South Elm Street, will see a new island where pedestrians can take momentary refuge while crossing the intersection.
New traffic signals at both ends of the train overpass and new signal equipment at the north end of the Comeau Bridge that firefighters can control are also part of changes, Michaud said.
A new pedestrian crossing near the southern end of the Comeau Bridge will bring walkers between the apartment complex and the Bradford Rail Trail.
Councilor John Michitson said he is concerned with the vehicle queuing that will be introduced with the two new sets of traffic lights and additional traffic from the new development, but agrees that safety will be improved.
"We are fortunate to have $2.5 million to work with, between the state and developer, for traffic improvements," Michitson said. "It’s probably the best that can be done with this development."
But he said the city's job is not done.
"We should take a broader look at the feeder traffic patterns at the other side of the Comeau Bridge on Washington Street and River Street, and Route 125 on the other end, to see if the traffic flow can be improved," Michitson said. "It’s either blight and poor traffic that we already have there, or take a risk to improve the area and community with an otherwise sound proposal for positive change."