A large mall in Tewksbury might not be part of the development plan if a new Interstate 93 interchange is built in southwest Andover. But planners should push all the harder to do their part to see the new ramps built. Regardless of whether there is a Tewskbury mall or a mix of retail and other uses, the interchange will allow Andover businesses to expand or to develop on the outskirts of town. This is good news because it eases the tax burden on homeowners. As Andover grows, the businesses it relies on to help pay for schools, police and road repairs must grow, too.

The new ramps are meant to help develop more than 500 acres in Andover, Tewksbury and Wilmington, while easing traffic problems in Ballardvale, the southwestern part of Andover.

There is some question now about what will be built in Tewskbury because Mills Corp., the company that planned to build a mall, has been bought by Simon, the company that owns many malls in the area, including the Mall Rockingham Park and the Burlington Mall. A Simon spokesman has said the company has not decided whether it will build the local mall as Mills Corp. had planned.

Andover officials need to continue to guard residents' interests. But it's possible if a mall isn't built that this will make the interchange an even better plan for Andover. Some residents have been concerned that at peak times, such as during the Christmas shopping season, people driving to a mall would cause additional traffic tie-ups in the area. Although planners essentially guaranteed that the new ramps will lessen the traffic on Ballardvale's small streets, even after new businesses are built there, a different type of development could mean even less traffic.

Then, there are the economic benefits. Wyeth BioPharma, a drug and health products manufacturer in Andover, has promised 100 new jobs and guaranteed to keep them in place for at least five years if the state comes through with a $15 million grant for the construction of the interchange. Wyeth already employs 1,900 people in Andover. The Wyeth promise is the tip of the iceburg, as planners estimate that as many as 12,000 jobs could be created by the interchange. Similar planning years ago for the Dascomb Road and River Road areas gave Andover the healthy commercial tax base it enjoys today.

The interchange, which would be constructed between the current Route 125 and Dascomb Road exits, is critical to Wyeth and other companies in the Ballardvale section. Wyeth has argued that the interchange is needed to support its planned expansion. Any talk of expansion without the interchange meets with resistance from nearby residents who complain that too many employees drive through residential neighborhoods to get to their jobs.

The $15 million in state money is available through the $100 million Massachusetts Opportunity, Relocation and Expansion grant program created by former Gov. Mitt Romney. The program office is considering some 36 applications for grants. The federal government would pay for the rest of the $56 million interchange.

The state should approve the money for the I-93 project. It would give the area the chance to attract new businesses in the biotechnology and medical fields, adding to the businesses such as Wyeth that are already here.

But businesses won't wait forever. Wyeth and other manufacturers have products to make. If they cannot make them here, they will do so somewhere else | somewhere that already has its roads built and ready to use. No one around here should want to see that. Mall or no mall, the interchange will bring jobs, traffic relief and tax revenue to Andover. Leaders needs to continue to keep the interchange development project as a top priority.

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