AMESBURY – As the Whittier Bridge reconstruction project begins to kick into high gear, a renewed focus is being placed on possibly integrating the city’s barely-used visitors center into the shared-used bike path that will span the Merrimack River upon the project’s completion in 2016.
The Chain Bridge visitors center, located at the corner of Main and Merrill Street near the entrance to the Hines Bridge, has been underutilized for years, and many local residents have expressed interest in connecting the site to the nearby bike trails so that riders will have easy access to the Merrimack River waterfront along Main Street.
“There has been a push to make a connection right off the bridge onto Main Street so people can get off and go along the Merrimack River,” said Mayor Thatcher Kezer. “I can’t say that there is a specific plan that’s been approved, but there has been a lot of productive conversation to make some kind of connection there at the visitors center.”
Under the current Whittier Bridge plan, a shared-used pedestrian lane will span the river and connect the existing trails in Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury. On the Amesbury side of the river, the trail is expected to run along the highway before dropping down along the Old Merrill Street extension near Route 110, where it could then link up to the nearby Riverwalk Path in Amesbury and the Ghost Trail in Salisbury.
If a connection were added near the Chain Bridge visitors center in the future, it would be done as a separate project from the ongoing Whittier Bridge reconstruction, according to Mike Verseckes, a Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesperson.
“At this point it’s outside the scope of the Whittier Bridge project, so we’re not planning to fold this into the larger project to rebuild the Whittier Bridge,” Verseckes said.