Consideration of a possible restructuring of properties adjacent to the western end of Low Street and Route 113 is of a complexity unrelated to most of the city's projects of the distant past.
The exception would be the construction of the traffic circle at outer State Street and the creation of the highway beneath High Street to the river crossing to Salisbury in the mid-1930s.
Change, it would appear, is in the offing, and its constructive relevance to the area's footprint is speculative. Such changes usually are. What's in play is how to accommodate something that was inconceivable when the streets involved were created.
Let's begin at the beginning when, in that less complicated time, the three roadways running parallel to the Merrimack River first covered the city's stretch from "Downalong'' to "Upalong.''
Water and Merrimac streets, northeast to northwest, rim the river, and Low Street on the other side of the High Street ridge runs parallel to both. High Street led to what became West Newbury, a once lightly traveled road. Those connected at right angles to them formed the city's blocks from one end to the other.
That's how it was before the shopping center became a major destination and the superhighway added to traffic challenges.
We don't usually think about the complexities of long-term growth of our old cities and towns. It wasn't until I began to ponder the likely outcomes of what appears in play that led me to reconsider the earlier time and how much easier it was then to manage change.
It was of a design fitting realities, and so must those of today.
Low Street was used mainly to access farmland between Common Pasture Road (now Graf Road) and the other cow and wagon paths that became Hale Street and Crow Lane.
High Street was settled along what had been the path from the Parker River along the city's glacial ridge leading to West Newbury.
The history of the city's growth can be told in several ways, but the one that rarely receives much attention was the orderly arrangements of its streets from one end to the other.
Block by block, the number of those cross-connecting streets — Purchase, Pleasant, Washington, Monroe, Eagle, etc. — began as short cuts connecting the north to south streets leading from High to Merrimac and Water streets.
There were no automobiles, but intersection stop signs are everywhere about because today, there are.
It's fair to ask what any of that has to do with what's being proposed.
Under consideration is not only the creation of another access and egress essential to the prospective presence of a new CVS Pharmacy close by that intersection, but the possibility of a major housing development just beyond it on the southwesterly side of Low Street.
It's reasonable to assume that there will be major problems.
Route 113, a state road that was once a modestly traveled way to and from West Newbury, joins with Low Street where traffic now flows from the shopping center, to and from Route 1, Anna Jaques Hospital and the industrial park.
Added to that is the gas station on the corner of Route 113 and Low Street. Five traffic lights are required to control traffic. There is no comparable traffic management challenge in the Newburyport area.
Considering what's involved, there just might be some among those weighing what might be best done, or not done, to look backward with some envy to a time when the management of growth was undoubtedly far less burdened.
I don't envy them the challenge.
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Bill Plante is former executive editor of Essex County Newspapers. His email address is email@example.com.