Vehicle traffic crossing the Gillis Bridge over the Merrimack River is swift and heavy in both directions at the base of the bridge on the Salisbury side, making pedestrian and bike crossing dicey at best. It didn’t take very long for state highway officials and the region’s state legislators, Rep. Michael Costello and former Sen. Steven Baddour, to notice and respond.
“MassDOT (Department of Transportation) realized there was a problem and they really stepped up to the plate,” said Jerry Klima, former Salisbury selectman and biking enthusiast. “It’s really usually a town’s responsibility to pay for the design of something like this, but DOT got their own people to do the design in-house.”
Yet, even with legislators on board and DOT’s help and resources, if not for the generosity of two property owners and trail neighbors, it couldn’t have happened, Klima said. Larry Pleau of Bridge Marina and John Golden donated land to make the trail connector possible, Klima said.
The project also took federal funding and additional money from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, Klima said, and the talents of its DOT designer, Lou Rabito.
“He was responsive, caring and flexible,” Klima said. “He did a remarkable job on the design.”
Built by Newburyport contractor John D. Hartnett & Son Inc, the project started in mid-March 2012 and was completed on time.
It allow travelers heading north from Newburyport to go over the Gillis Bridge and, at its end, make a right-hand U-turn just before First Street by Stripers Grille. They then will proceed down the embankment and under the Gillis Bridge to the other side and head up the embankment on the west side of the bridge. Traveling north a bit, after a left onto Friedenfels Road and onto the path, they will be able to proceed to the head of the Old Eastern Marsh Trail. Those traveling north will follow the connector in reverse.