By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Long held up by setbacks and delays, work on the final piece of the Riverwalk Trail is expected to begin next year.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer said a redesigned portion of the bike trail that would connect the Lower Millyard with the downtown area has been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and will be included within the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan. Construction will begin next spring and is expected to coincide with the larger redevelopment of the Lower Millyard area.
“This effort has been ongoing for about 15 years to get this last piece done,” Kezer said, adding that a number of previous plans failed to get off the ground because they were unrealistic. “So what I’ve done is pushed for a redesign, which has been accepted, and make it a feasible construction project.”
The current plan is to extend the trail through Heritage Park and then build a bridge that would carry it over the Powow River to the other side, where another new park would be created. The trail would then meander around National Grid’s property and up Mill Street before connecting to the downtown area on Main Street. Additional parking will also be constructed on the downtown side of the river.
The project will be paid for exclusively with state and federal funds as part of the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan. It is expected to cost $2,104,684, well under the original $2,952,321.40 estimate, according to MassDOT.
Part of the reason for the decrease in costs is because previous plans involved significantly more engineering in the river itself, which Kezer said would have been a major effort and probably wouldn’t have even been practical. The concept was to build a long elevated walkway along the side of the river, and connect into Main Street.
“The problem with that construction was that it was going to be the eighth engineering marvel of the world to construct that and make it ADA compliant, get all the slopes correct for handicap access,” Kezer said.
Although this is the last piece of the Riverwalk Trail to be built, it is technically considered to be Phase 1 of the overall project, with the already completed trail connecting the Carriagetown Marketplace with the Lower Millyard constituting Phase 2.
Kezer said Phase 1 has seen a lot of starts and stops over the years, but now the only thing needed to begin construction is National Grid’s approval.
“It’s designed to work around the existing power lines, so there’s nothing to be moved from the National Grid perspective,” Kezer said. “We just need to sit down with them, get them to sign off on the details of that plan and then we’ll move forward with the project.”
The planned completion of the Riverwalk comes as work ramps up on the Whittier Bridge project, which will see the entire six-lane span carrying Interstate 95 over the Merrimack River replaced with a new eight-lane bridge with four lanes on each side, plus breakdown lanes and a pedestrian bike trail.
That bike trail will serve as the primary link between the existing trails in Greater Newburyport region, including the Riverwalk, the Clipper City Rail Trail and Harborwalk in Newburyport and the Great Marsh Trail and Ghost Trail in Salisbury.
Current plans call for the trail to connect to Route 110 near the Amesbury/Salisbury line, although there is interest locally to build an additional ramp at the site of the Chain Bridge visitors center; that way, bikers could easily access the Main Street waterfront and the Hines Bridge crossing.