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Though improvements have been made, graffiti and buildings with broken and boarded-up windows are still the first things people see when they exit the train.

As Kevin Lannan of Haverhill flipped through a complimentary newspaper at the Haverhill MBTA station, waiting for the commuter rail to whisk him southbound, his nose detected an unpleasant odor. The stench of urine was impossible to ignore.

“This area doesn’t do much for me,” said Lannan, who has lived in the city on and off for almost 25 years. “There are constantly bums here at night. Just smell the air out here. It’s disgusting.”

As Haverhill busily tries to gussy up the downtown area, trying to wage a never-ending battle against graffiti and litter, the train station off Washington Street still seems to be a problem spot.

Obscenities, phone numbers and other unidentifiable markings are all over the phone booths, signs, trash receptacles and newspaper boxes. In fact, graffiti lines many of the pathways to the station’s platform and, although some of the tags are eye-catching and colorful, the city doesn’t want graffiti to be the thing that catches train-travellers’ glances, even if some don’t mind it.

“I think the graffiti is creative,” said Bill Scott of Exeter, N.H. as he stood waiting for the commuter line. “There’s something very citified about it, the colors, the designs. I’m probably in the minority on that, though.”

Scott most likely is one of the few that doesn’t mind the tagging, as local residents have become very concerned in recent months about the amount of graffiti in the city.

A resident of a high-rise apartment next to the almost-rebuilt Comeau Bridge, for example, is concerned that the overwhelming amount of graffiti on the railroad bridge just to the East of the construction will be impossible to miss once the new overpass of the Merrimack River opens. She said that she has voiced her opinion with the city but hasn’t had much response.

Yet according to Bob Ward, acting superintendent of the Public Works Department in Haverhill, the city is working on developing a program to clean up the area. State and city highway departments, city officials, the sheriff’s department and local police are working together to collectively fix the problem.

The best way to keep the train station, and its surrounding areas clean, might not be answered yet, but one thing is certain: Doing nothing is not an option.

“I don’t think the city wants that image out there as people come into the city,” Ward said. “We want the image of a nice, clean city.”

Not to say the area hasn’t been improved greatly.

“I’m sorry to see the gentrification of the city, but they have done a lot to spruce up the downtown,” said Scott, as he gestured down to Wingate Street and Lafayette Square. “I think they’ve done a lot bringing in new businesses.”

Having Amtrak’s Downeaster train chugging through the city could bring new possibilities

“The Downeaster coming through is probably a good boom for Haverhill,” said Scott, who often drives down to Haverhill or Bradford to catch the commuter rail. “But I don’t know if it’s (Haverhill) one of the places I’d want to get out and explore.”

In spite of the stepped-up efforts, many commuters and tourists who pass through the city’s train station day after day agree that more could be done.

“It’s come a long way. Most of these buildings look a lot better,” Lannan said, pointing to two of the dilapidated, abandoned mill buildings that are impossible to miss upon arriving in Haverhill. “But the train station itself is not somewhere I like to be.”

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