The City of Methuen’s Department of Planning and Community Development hired a team of students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Master’s in Regional Planning studio class to examine the growth impacts of a potential highway interchange reconfiguration. Exit 46 of Interstate 93 in Methuen is a failed interchange, and will likely be reconfigured in the next ten years. Methuen, a middle class city of 44,000 midway between Boston, MA and Manchester, NH, is currently experiencing significant growth pressures. The reconfigured interchange will only add to these pressures.
In consultation with the client, the studio team focused its analysis on the Haverhill Street Corridor. Haverhill Street connects the City of Lawrence to Interstate 93. Haverhill Street is also one of the city’s major commercial districts, including Merrimac Plaza, a 150,000 sq. ft. community shopping center. There is a significant divide between the north side of Haverhill Street which is residential, and the south side, which is commercial.
The reconfiguration of the Exit 46 interchange will increase traffic volume and make Haverhill Street more accessible from neighboring Lawrence and Dracut. Increased volume normally benefits commercial development, but Haverhill Street is already congested, so increased volume may worsen congestion and have a negative impact on the district.
Three future development scenarios are presented. Scenario #1 assumes no intervention by the city, allowing current regulations and market forces guide development. Under Scenario #1 , future development is likely to continue to be fragmented and haphazard, increasing traffic congestion and further straining the relationship between commercial and residential uses.
Scenario #2 proposes two regulatory changes intended to reduce traffic congestion and facilitate economic development: a parcel consolidation incentive ordinance and an access management ordinance. These ordinances would encourage the development of larger, less auto-oriented commercial uses such as professional office space. They would also encourage shared parking and curb cuts. These changes would reduce traffic congestion and create a more effective commercial district.
Scenario #3 transforms the Haverhill Street Corridor into a unified, pedestrian-friendly, mixeduse neighborhood. It builds upon the regulatory changes of Scenario #2, adding a new access road that would allow customers to travel between commercial uses without exiting onto Haverhill Street. The commercial uses would be reorganized into pedestrian-friendly plazas, reconnecting the residential and commercial sides of Haverhill Street. The corridor would gain a strong neighborhood identity, enhancing its role as a gateway to Methuen from both Interstate 93 and the City of Lawrence.
The studio team recommends Scenario #3 as the preferred outcome. The report concludes with a list of Action Items the Department of Planning and Community Development can undertake to prepare for the impacts of the I-93 Exit 46 interchange reconfiguration.
Section 3: Pages 1-47
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