LAWRENCE — If two cars both both left Andover at 5 p.m. on a weekday and headed down Route 28/South Broadway into the city, which one would be the first to cross the Stone Bridge in under 30 minutes?
The answer: Neither. They would be lucky to make it across the bridge in less than an hour.
Traffic in Lawrence has become nightmarish, said District E City Councilor David Abdoo, and it's time the state and city did something about it.
On Dec. 16, officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, along with city planners, are meeting residents and business owners at or near the intersection of South Broadway and Mount Vernon Street to discuss proposed changes that could ease traffic along one of the city's three major thoroughfares.
It's the second such meeting to be held to discuss what Abdoo calls one of the most outdated and inefficient intersections in the city.
The first meeting was held Sept. 12, 2018, the day before the gas disaster. Everyone knows what happened then, and how many projects were put on the back burner, including anything that would improve traffic flow along South Broadway from Andover to the Merrimack River.
"That stretch of road is in dire need of help," Abdoo said, noting that the traffic lights are 1940s technology. They aren't sequenced with other lights along the roughly two-mile stretch of a busy commercial district, he added, and there are no left turn lanes or pedestrian lights.
"It's a relic," he said, "and it's unsafe. You take your life in your hands crossing as a pedestrian."
But it's not just Mount Vernon and South Broadway that are the problem. It's pretty much every intersection on South Broadway, including Merrimack, Salem, Andover and Shattuck streets.
"All of these intersections need improvements," he said. "They are all relics."
The newest intersection, at least one that has seen some changes in the last 10 years, is Andover Street, which received new sidewalks and was repaved.
Another street in the area getting some attention is Merrimack Street, which is slowly being transformed into a pedestrian area with wide sidewalks, buried utilities, antique lighting and more.
Abdoo said the work on Merrimack Street, from Parker to South Broadway, has been underway for many years and cost millions of dollars.
So far, however, it doesn't seem to have improved traffic much.
Abdoo said South Broadway, which has become somewhat of a microeconomy of bodegas, clothing stores, hair salons, restaurants, convenience stores, auto outlets, retail and service businesses, hasn't received as much attention as other parts of the city that get grant money, tax incentives and state funding for a variety of projects.
But, Abdoo said, "I think we may be turning the corner."
The state is willing to invest up to $1 million or more to renovate the intersections along South Broadway. The city's Planning Department is pushing for the changes, and Mayor Dan Rivera is onboard with plans to improve the traffic lights and thus the traffic flow throughout the city, Abdoo said.
The status quo is not acceptable, he added.
"It's almost like people have learned to live with it and they shouldn't have to," he said of the agonizing traffic jams and antiquated traffic lights.
IF YOU GO
What: Meeting to discuss South Broadway/Mount Vernon intersection
When: 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 16
Where: Frost School, 33 Hamlet St. (Check city's website in case location changes.)
Who: MassDOT and city planning officials
Why: Get resident and business feedback on how best to fix the intersection and improve traffic flow.