, Newburyport, MA

December 18, 2013

Our view: Seabrook wise to limit 'big box' traffic snarls

Newburyport Daily News

---- — It was Yogi Bera who once famously said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” That’s a truism that planners in Seabrook seem to be taking to heart, and perhaps just in time.

Seabrook’s Route 1 has become the go-to place for Newburyport area consumers who are looking for big box store shopping. Over the past two decades, the patchwork of small local stores that line Route 1 have been dwarfed by the arrival of Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, Staples, and Kohls. The march of big-box stores continues in Seabrook, with the anticipated arrival of a Super Walmart, HomeGoods, Petsmart, and other stores in a huge new shopping center at the intersection of routes 1 and 107.

Directly across the street from them, another shopping center is planned. It will be much smaller than the Super Walmart plaza, but size is relative — the “smaller” shopping center will be about the same size as Newburyport’s Port Plaza, the largest shopping center in Newburyport.

All of this centralized shopping creates a traffic problem that Route 1 isn’t well suited to handle. There’s been some road widening that has helped out, and the interchange with Interstate 95 has been improved. But it’s not enough to handle the anticipated increased of 1,000-plus extra cars per hour that the new shopping center is expected to draw.

The layout of Route 1 in Seabrook isn’t ideal for such a huge concentration of retail. Unlike the enormous over-the-border shopping meccas of Newington, N.H., and Salem, N.H., Seabrook has inadequate highway access from the north, and its southern access is also somewhat constrained. That puts enormous pressure on the “middle” access -- a short stretch of Route 107 that connects Interstate 95 to Route 1. Soon that pressure will be far greater, with the opening next year of the new Super Walmart shopping center.

Seabrook planners are considering a concept of downscaled zoning for the northern stretch of Route 1 in town. It would prevent the construction of more big box stores to the north of the busy Route 107 intersection. Instead, the zoning would encourage smaller stores and residential development, both of which will draw far fewer cars than a big shopping center.

Granted there is not a tremendous amount of space left for development along the northern end of Seabrook’s section of Route 1. However, it’s in Seabrook’s best interest to make sure that its vital gateway on Route 107 doesn’t become a Yogi Bera nightmare. It doesn’t take a lot of cars to bring traffic to a standstill.