SALISBURY — It's going to get a lot safer for bicyclists and walkers to get from the popular Newburyport Clipper City Rail Trail to Salisbury's Old Eastern Marsh Trail.
Thanks to federal funding, the generosity of two local landowners and some ingenuity by state transportation authorities, a connector will soon be built to link the two, one that avoids the current crossing at a dangerous section of Route 1.
The Merrimack Valley Planning Commission approved additional funding for what is known as the Salisbury Rail Trail Connector, allowing the $963,595 project to be put out to bid by the state on Saturday. The timetable will allow the project to proceed this fall.
"These trails have become extremely popular and are heavily used by people in the Greater Newburyport community," said state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport. "The connector will allow pedestrians and bicyclists to travel between Salisbury and Newburyport via the Gillis Bridge without having to cross Route 1."
Paid entirely with federal transportation dollars, state transportation officials have done the preliminary work and shepherded the project along, Salisbury Selectman and biking enthusiast Jerry Klima said yesterday.
"MassDOT did all the design and permitting work, and they will be supervising the construction of the connector, as they did with the two other trails," Klima said.
But with all the state and federal help, Klima said the project couldn't have gotten off the ground without the help of two Salisbury landowners.
"I would like to thank the trail's neighbors, Larry Pleau of Bridge Marina and John Golden, for donating land to make the trail connector possible," Klima said. "Larry Pleau gave up 9 feet of land for the project and will move the fence on his property back."
With traffic moving fast going on and off the Gillis Bridge in both directions, anyone who has tried to cross Route 1 in Salisbury at the foot of the bridge knows how dangerous it can be. After the Newburyport and Salisbury trails were opened and became popular walking and biking options, it quickly became apparent that those who wanted to enjoy both trails had to transition across Route 1 at a dicey spot.
Although a caution light was installed, it had little impact helping people cross the busy north/south corridor.
"Thank heavens no one's been hurt so far," Klima said.
Klima said bicyclists from Newburyport will be able to travel south over the Gillis Bridge, and at its end, make a right-hand U-turn just before First Street by Striper's Restaurant and proceed down the embankment, then proceed under the Gillis Bridge to the other side. They will go up the embankment on the west side of the bridge, travel north a bit and take a left into Friedenfels Road, to the path proceeding to the head of Salisbury's Old Eastern Marsh Trail.
Pedestrians and bikers won't be riding on rough surfaces or shared roadways with vehicles. The connector project will build a paved 8- to 10-foot-wide trail in all directions and will also repave Friedenfels when all is done.
"MassDOT engineers and consultants designed a beautiful riverside trail and picnic area that people will enjoy for many years," Klima said.
Those who would like a tour of these two trails now, before the connector is built, can take the Coastal Trails Coalition sponsoring walks coming up soon. As part of the Essex National Heritage Commission annual event on Saturday, there will be a guided walk of the Clipper City Rail Trail, beginning at 10 a.m. and running to noon, starting at Washington Street. And on Saturday, Sept. 24, tours of the Old Eastern Marsh Trail start at Friedenfels, again from 10 a.m. to noon.
There's more planned for rail trail expansion in Salisbury in the coming years, Klima said. Under the Border to Boston rail trail initiative, design work is currently being done that will add 2.3 miles of recreation trail to town. That project will extend the Old Eastern Marsh Trail from Mudnock Road, taking it across Route 110 to Lion's Park and out to Route 1. The trail will include a pedestrian/bicyclist bridge to take people over Route 1 to Salisbury Elementary School, Klima said, and then from the school proceed to the border with New Hampshire in Seabrook.
And in Seabrook, a rail trail initiative has begun to run along the town's abandoned railroad lines.