By Angeljean Chiaramida
SALISBURY — Gray skies and a chilly drizzle didn't subdue the joy yesterday morning as local and state officials — including state transportation czar James Aloisi — celebrated the imminent construction of Salisbury's Eastern Marsh Rail Trail.
The trail starts directly across the river from downtown Newburyport, just off Route 1 and running along an abandoned railroad line for about 1.4 miles to Mudnock Road. The 10-foot- wide, paved, $1.1 million rail trail will be built with Massachusetts Highway Department funds because a lot of state and local officials worked "in partnership" to make it happen, said state Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, and state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport.
This trail is one more link in Salisbury's vision of people being able to maneuver around town on dedicated biking and hiking routes.
For state transportation secretary Aloisi, the rail trail brings together the important aspects needed to make it a transportation project for the state to fund.
"My vision as secretary is that with the limited resources we have, we target where we spend our efforts," Aloisi said. "This project meets the quality-of-life test and the economic development test— because of Salisbury's tourism industry. It also addresses mobility issues, for mobility can happen in many ways."
Aloisi said the network of rail trails hoped for in the "Border to Boston" rail trail initiative encourages alternative transportation modes.
"This is a healthy transportation alternative that also decreases our carbon footprint," Aloisi said. "I believe we shouldn't take that lightly."
Costello praised the work of Salisbury officials — like biking enthusiast and Selectman Jerry Klima — in pushing to keep the state's attention on walking and biking trails as well as roadways. The result of Salisbury's work, and that of the Essex National Heritage Commission, Costello said, will be a web of trails all over the region that will serve local residents and tourists.
"How better to enjoy this area than from a bike," Costello said. "When completed, you'll be able to get off the train (in Newburyport) and bike this area without endangering your life."
Klima said the regional objective of the Border to Boston recreation trail dream is for local residents and visitors to access all lower Merrimack River communities by bike.
"When it's finished," Klima said, "it will knit together Amesbury, Salisbury and Salisbury Beach, Newburyport, the train station, Newbury and Plum Island."
The Eastern Marsh Rail Trail was an unexpected boon for Salisbury. Funded by MassHighway with federal money earmarked for alternative transportation projects, the trail was made possible with the cooperation of state legislators, Aloisi's office, and Paul Steadman of MassHighway's District 4. Another crucial part of the puzzle was cooperation from the Massachusetts Transportation Authority, which in 2007 gave Salisbury a 99-year lease on 3.8 miles of the former Eastern Railroad rail bed, over which the trail will run.
Town Manager Neil Harrington said Congressman John Tierney, D-Salem, played a pivotal role in making the project possible, helping to get the federal funding package that earmarked projects like this one.
S & R Construction Enterprises, of Newton, N.H., will construct the trail. Owner Stephen Early hopes to start next week, weather permitting. By November, he said, the asphalt paving should be down, with all the final touches completed next spring.