Editor’s note: This “Taking to the Trails” column first appeared in The Londonderry Times newspaper.
By Mike Byerly, Londonderry Trailways
People ask us this all the time. And the answer? Well, it’s complicated because there are several parties involved. Here are updates on the Londonderry Rail Trail as well as the trail segments in nearby Salem, Windham, Derry and Manchester. They are all part of the Granite State Rail Trail which, while in various stages of development, spans 125 miles from the Massachusetts border to Lebanon, NH.
All of Windham’s 4.3 miles of the Trail have been paved for some years, so trail enthusiasts can currently enjoy about 9.5 miles of uninterrupted Rail Trail from Hood Pond Park in Derry to the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, the longest stretch of pavement on the entire Trail. The other towns are still developing portions of their Trail.
Today there are 4.5 miles of completed Rail Trail in Londonderry, from route 28 at Seasons Lane to Harvey Road where it borders the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Both ends of the trail are to be extended, north to Manchester and south to Derry, completing 6.1 miles of trail.
First up is phase 6, a one-mile stretch heading north that will end at the Manchester town line. We hope to begin construction in 2022 on a route that is expected to run on the former railroad bed, largely along the fence line of the airport. Funding for the estimated $1.2M cost for this project came from an $800K federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant, and $400K from Londonderry’s unassigned fund balance. Voters approved the Town’s contribution in 2019 by a 3:1 margin.
At the southern end of our current Rail Trail, phase 7 will eventually connect Londonderry to Derry along a 0.6-mile stretch. The timing of this phase is hard to predict because this section will cross property that will be impacted by the planned I-93 Exit 4a Project. The project was recently delayed an estimated two years after bids exceeded the approved budget by over $30 million. This probably means that Exit 4a and the completion of the Trail are 4-5 years off.
In the meantime, Londonderry Trailways is fundraising and developing plans for a proposed Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB) to help get pedestrians safely across Route 28 when the time comes. (A PHB is already in place where the Trail crosses Route 28 near North School.) We are also working on the design of a bridge that will cross Beaver Brook in this phase. Our section and the adjoining undeveloped section in Derry will need to cross a property owned by a private landowner who has indicated support once Exit 4a has broken ground.
Like us, Derry is gated by the Exit 4a Project before they can develop a 0.4 mile stretch from Madden Road to the Londonderry town line. Part of the project includes a pedestrian tunnel in Derry that would go under the planned access road from the exit, close to the current intersection of Madden Road and North High Street. The Derry Rail Trail Alliance has lobbied the State for inclusion of this tunnel so that the access road will not bisect their trail.
Derry plans to submit a TAP grant application to help fund this roughly $1M project. TAP grants cover 80% of the cost with the applicant responsible for the remaining 20%, and Derry has already allocated funding for their portion. They hope to get the grant and be ready when work on Exit 4a commences.
In addition to the TAP application, the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission included the project in its Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which will be forwarded to the NH Department of Transportation, Governor and State Legislature for funding consideration.
Meanwhile, Derry is currently constructing a 0.35-mile paved stretch from North High Street to Hood Park that crosses the re-engineered Hood Pond Dam. The Town had been negotiating the engineering plan with the State for several years, and will complete the project in the spring. Once these last two sections are done, Derry will offer 4 miles of Rail Trail to explore.
Since 2018 Salem has had two miles of paved trail running from the Windham town line to the historic Salem Depot on Main Street. The remaining 3.1 miles to the Massachusetts border is stabilized but not paved, so it is best for walking, mountain bikes or experienced riders.
Phases 4 and 5 of the trail will extend it to the Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection with Route 28. This is funded with $800K in federal money through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant program. The grant requires a 20% match which has been provided by the owners of Tuscan Village in Salem. Construction is gated by utility work along the corridor, so Salem is hoping for a 2022 project completion.
A phase 6 of 0.6 miles is in design and includes plans for a refuge island crossing of Veterans Memorial Parkway, Route 28 crosswalks, and building the trail to and across Cluff Crossing. Another CMAQ grant plus the 20% from the Town will fund that section. This phase will commence after phases 4 and 5 are completed.
The rest of the trail to Massachusetts is covered with recycled asphalt, which is fine for walking and mountain bikes, but not a good surface for road bikes. While there are no plans to fully pave this section, Salem is fundraising to pave a short section and create parking spaces at a trailhead near the state border.
The 2.1-mile Piscataquog Rail Trail connects the West Side of Manchester to the Goffstown Rail Trail, covering a total of 7.5 miles. From the NorthEast Delta Dental Stadium (home of the Fisher Cats) on the Heritage Trail, the paved Piscataquog Trail crosses the Merrimack River on the Hands Across the Merrimack Bridge and then heads northwest, crossing the Irving and Bernice Singer Memorial Bridge over the Piscataquog River to Goffstown.
The Heritage Trail also features the picturesque Riverwalk in the Manchester Millyard. Future phases of the Heritage Trail include development of a six-mile recreational trail from North to South, adjacent to the railroad corridor and defining a paved path through the Millyard, linking communities and connecting to Elm Street.
The South Manchester Trail parallels South Willow Street and is paved from Gold Street near the Hebrew and St. Augustine Cemeteries north to Beech Street. From there, Manchester has a preliminary design but is reconsidering the best way to reach Elm Street by 2022. In the other direction, funding is already in place and a design is being finalized to develop the trail from Gold Street near the Wal-Mart to Perimeter Road, also targeting a 2022 completion date.
Manchester, also, has received a TAP grant to construct the trail around the airport to the Londonderry town line, and the City has committed the 20% matching funds. This part of the trail will run from South Willow Street to Perimeter Road and Harvey Road. The TAP grant funding is set for 2025; however, that date could move up depending on the status of the Londonderry’s trail progress and the overall project design readiness.
For more local Rail Trail information, check out our website: http://www.londonderrytrails.org.