Andy Varela Answers Our Questions
Leggs Hill Bridge, Salem State Impact, Conservation Wetlands
Question 1 –The bridge to Leggs Hill Road from Loring Avenue is very old, and is too narrow to allow full access by our larger emergency equipment. The Lynch/Van Otterloo Y sits at the top of the hill and is located in Salem. Is it time for the City to work to update this crossing?
I do believe Leggs Hill road bridge needs to be updated. In July of 2009, Ward 7 Councillor Joe O’Keefe was in talks with Marblehead selectmen William Woodfin, and the town manager at the time, on this issue. The proposed road improvements would include the removal of the existing pavement and base materials to be replaced by new materials, along with the instillation of a new, 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalk on the south side of the road that will connect to the existing sidewalk. Since the road abuts a wetland conservation area, Salem’s Conservation Commission must first review and agree to the plans. I really believe this is a priority; not only is it unsafe for pedestrians and our emergency response teams, the bridge continues to fall into disrepair. When elected, I would make this a priority to continue this important conversation and move all parties to take action. I would seek guidance from the Conservation Commission, local historians, preservation groups, and the Planning Department to fully understand the best possible design and materials to maintain the historic character of the bridge while making these improvements, and consult with City engineer David Knowlton. The Lynch/Van Otterloo Y is a great asset to Salem, in part because of the number of activities offered for all age groups — pedestrian and auto traffic have both increased and, after 10 years of no movement on the project, this needs to be a priority.
Question 2 – Salem State University impacts Ward 7 in many ways. Traffic and parking may be at the top of the list. Do you feel that SSU does enough to mitigate the traffic and to ease the parking burden for the residents and if not, what more can be done?
First, let me acknowledge that Salem State has made some strong inroads with additional on-campus parking in and around the multiple campus properties to mitigate the density and historic, illegal parking issue in surrounding neighborhoods. SSU has also posted a number of alternative travel solutions both to highlight more green, sustainable travel options but to also address the added burden of traffic in Ward 7. In fact, Salem State received Excellence in Commuter Options (ECO) Award from MassCommute and MassDOT in both 2017 and 2018 for their efforts. I think it’s important to also remember that the primary routes traveled by commuter-students are also traveled by those coming through Salem — residents from other towns like Marblehead and Swampscott who cross through Salem and add to traffic density. However, I believe there is room for improvement and that SSU needs to be an active, and financially-supportive participant in helping to find additional solutions to traffic patterns. Salem State is an active and engaging academic institution which I believe is an asset to Ward 7 and to Salem’s culture and economy. But, with over 8,000 enrolled students — many of whom commute to and from campus at peak hours — we can, and need, to do more for the neighbors of Ward 7. When elected, I would initiate a traffic study, in partnership with Salem State University, that would hopefully identify creative solutions that would move students, faculty, and staff traveling in cars, off of Salem’s main roads and on to SSU’s property at various points across their two main campuses.
Question 3 – Ward 7 has a lot of conservation wetlands that serve a critical environmental purpose for Salem and surrounding communities. Are we doing enough to maintain these spaces and to mitigate any potential issues associated with global warming?
I’m proud to live in a town that has historically protected wetlands and designated conservation areas. The conversation about conservation is now city-wide and we must all focus on protecting our water front neighbors from rising sea levels and storm surges. In Ward 7, we see how the existence of wetlands – marsh grasses and the particular natural design of our estuaries – can naturally help to mitigate rising water levels. That’s one reason that adding sea grass to Collins Cove as part of the Living Coastline project will, in time, be helpful to protecting the properties along the shore. If elected, I would seek the guidance of local subject matter experts and conservation groups. Resiliency is a city-wide issue that is at a critical point requiring action. I consistently attended the Sustainability, Energy, and Resiliency Committee meetings and am glad to see that the conversation has begun to shift a bit away from focusing entirely on renewable energy solutions, which are an important part of future action, but also focusing on how Salem will need to respond to the impending effects of climate change — specifically rising sea levels and storm surges which affect every one of our coastal neighborhoods and historic waterfront in downtown.