CST Project May Result in Town’s First Traffic Lights


Drivers on School Street and the Route 128 ramps may see delays of a minute or two from traffic backups if the Cell Signaling Technology laboratory on Atwater Avenue is approved.

That was the conclusion of a traffic study presented by Sam Gregorio, senior design engineer of TEC of Lawrence, as part of the public hearing before the Planning Board on Monday. The traffic study was conducted for CST.

CST is seeking a comprehensive permit to allow it to build in two phases a laboratory and research headquarters at the end of Atwater Avenue, next to the Manchester Athletic Club. About 500 scientists, administrators and staff will work at the new complex, which will include a two-story garage as well.

Gregorio said that a study of the current volume of traffic was conducted on January 12, 2023, but was adjusted for periods of the year when there was likely more traffic.

He said 6,130 vehicles a day currently use School Street.  He said during Phase 1, when half of the laboratory complex will be constructed, about 740 vehicles a day will enter and leave the complex.  An additional 660 vehicles a day would enter and leave once Phase 2 is completed.

“For a number of reasons, the total number of vehicles will probably be less than this,” said Gregorio. He said that people working from home, people using ride-share programs and people bicycling would all reduce the number of vehicles.

Phase 1 is not expected to be completed until 2027.  Phase 2 would be several years after that.

Gregorio explained that the majority of the workers arriving would travel northbound on Route 128, turn off at the School Street exit, turn left on School Street, then right onto Atwater Avenue.

Leaving the complex, the majority of drivers would turn left at the end of Atwater Avenue, then turn left at the ramp to Route 128 southbound.

Gregorio said that after Phase 2, about 94 additional cars an hour would be using the ramp and turning left onto School Street during the morning rush hour.  That number drops to 91 cars an hour turning left off School Street to the southbound ramp to Route 128 in the afternoon.

By contrast, about 45 cars an hour would be traveling southbound on Route 128, using the ramp at the School Street exit and heading to the complex in the morning.  A similar number would use the ramp toward Gloucester in the afternoon.

Gregorio said that it was possible that a set of lights would be required at the intersection of School Street and the ramp from Route 128 northbound.  Those lights would also include Mill Street. It was here that Gregorio said travelers may experience a one- to two-minute delay, particularly at morning rush hour.

Planning Board Chairman Sarah Creighton noted that if it was approved, it would be the town’s first traffic light.

Asked about when the peak rush hours for workers arriving and leaving the complex, Matt Connors of Hancock Associates said it varied.  Some of the staff will work a 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. shift, but scientists were more likely to arrive between 8 and 9 a.m. and work until 5 p.m. 

Daron Kurkijan, an engineer for Weston Sampson, which conducted the peer review of the traffic study, said that TEC used all the standard tools in conducting its traffic study.        

The only concerns raised by the peer review were the space for a bike lane and sidewalk on School Street north of Route 128, the amount of traffic on Atwater Avenue, and a sidewalk from the road looping around the complex to Atwater Avenue.

A sidewalk is included in the plans around the loop road but not in the short connector to Atwater Avenue.  CST agreed to add that sidewalk.

Members of the Planning Board raised questions about the traffic on Atwater Avenue, whether it was possible to widen it, or add bicycle lanes and what could be done to slow traffic down.

The wetlands, mainly Sawmill Brook, would make it difficult to widen the road, but bicycle markings, similar to the ones on lower School Street, could be used to make drivers to be aware of bicyclists.  Gregorio added that widening the road would have the unplanned effect of cars driving faster.

Kurkijan also briefly talked about a review of the fiscal impact of the project on the town.

“Overall, it’s going to be a net positive for the town,” said Kurkijan.

The public hearing was continued until the Planning Board meeting on June 24 at 7:30 p.m. when civil engineering, stormwater and landscaping will be discussed.