By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — A meeting scheduled for Monday between Beacon Hill lawmakers and residents living close to Interstate 95 near Laurel Road and Ferry Road has been indefinitely postponed, after state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives said she feared the informational gathering has become a mayoral campaign issue.
In recent weeks, the state has cleared numerous trees, shrubs and overgrowth as part of the roughly $300 million project to replace the aging Whittier Memorial Bridge and rehabilitate eight additional bridges to accommodate the widening of Interstate 95 in Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury. The biggest component of the project will involve demolishing the 58-year-old, six-lane span connecting Amesbury and Newburyport over the Merrimack River and replacing it with an eight-lane bridge with four lanes on each side.
In order to widen the highway, MassDOT is pushing a 40-year-old concrete sound barrier closer to several Laurel Road and Ferry Road homes, much to the displeasure of homeowners, who have been lobbying for a new, taller wall.
The meeting, according to O’Connor Ives and state Rep. Michael Costello, was part of a campaign aimed at convincing MassDOT to replace a sound barrier along the busy stretch of highway with a newer, more efficient barrier.
Among those expected to attend the meeting was Mayor Donna Holaday and Ward 2 City Councilor Greg Earls, one of the two city councilors looking to unseat Holaday this fall. On Tuesday, residents will go to the polls to vote in a mayoral preliminary election involving Holaday, Earls and Richard Sullivan Jr.
Earls, who does not represent the Laurel Road/Ferry Road neighborhood, recently sent an email to The Daily News stating that neighbors have been contacting him for more than a week urging him to take action after feeling City Hall was not responding to their concerns. That prompted Earls to contact O’Connor Ives’ office, which then began organizing a meeting with affected residents.
Earls acknowledged that his council district does not include the Laurel Road/Ferry Road area but said his connections with O’Connor Ives made it easy for him to act as a facilitator between residents and O’Connor Ives.
Yesterday, in a brief email statement, O’Connor Ives wrote that the meeting had become politicized, prompting her to cancel the meeting until another date can be arranged.
“It is unfortunate that a quality of life issue has become politicized. My priority is to address residents’ concerns and to work with the Department of Transportation, Mayor Holaday, Representative Costello and President O’Brien,” O’Connor Ives wrote.
City Council President Thomas O’Brien represents affected Laurel Road and Ferry Road residents.
Reached by phone yesterday, O’Connor Ives said the intent of the meeting was for neighbors to meet MassDOT project manager Ernie Monroe for a project schedule update and resolve any issues related to construction.
“I simply want to focus on the neighbors’ concerns and take any politics out of it,” O’Connor Ives said, adding she hoped to have the meeting rescheduled within the next two weeks.