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November 06. 2013 9:04PM

Engineers to begin work on Depot intersection design in Salem

SALEM — For decades, the town has been looking at plans to improve traffic at the Depot intersection, specifically at Route 28 and Main Street.

This week, the Board of Selectmen gave its approval for engineers to move forward with traffic improvement plans at the intersection that will include dedicated left-hand turn lanes on Route 28.

The proposal includes the widening of Route 28 on the west side of the road and could include the taking of some property by eminent domain on that side of the highway.

Engineers from VHB, the firm that has been working on engineering plans since 2008, presented selectmen with two options for the project. One of those projects included space for future development for a raised median at the intersection, while the other did not include the median.

Selectmen opted for the plan without the median, and stated they would like to see the project move forward without any sidewalks or medians at the intersection.

However, selectmen did allow for additional widening for either a sidewalk or median in the long-term, depending upon the future development of the Depot area.

Several selectmen questioned the cost and timetable for the project.

Selectman Stephen Campbell said the initial estimate for the work is $1.55 million, with the project increasing to as much as $3 million, depending on the amount of property the town may have to take to complete it.

“Is this improvement on our tax rate or is there federal and state money?” Campbell asked VHB project engineer Greg Backus.

Backus said the project would be funded primarily with state and federal funds.

While several selectmen expressed concerns about the taking of property along Route 28, one local business owner who would likely be impacted said he appreciated the effort the town and engineers have put into working with the community.

“Whether they take my building or not, if it is in the name of the town moving forward and making progress happen, I can find another location,” said Jim Desjardins, who owns Daisy Cleaners on Route 28. He said people do avoid the area now because of the traffic backing up along the highway.

Backus also laid out what he called an optimistic timeline for the project that would see design over the next year and construction beginning in 2015. Backus admitted that the timeline was dependent on state transportation department and environmental review and the eminent domain process going smoothly.

Selectman Pat Hargreaves said the town has been looking at the project since 1991 and said the full development of the area could take another quarter of a

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