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Spring has finally arrived! It’s time to dust off those bikes and strollers in the garage, find that favorite pair of shoes, and go outside. However you choose to enjoy the weather, consider exploring the coastal trails in the Merrimack Valley region. Visitors can walk, run, and ride bikes through an extensive winding network of shared-use trails throughout Newburyport, Salisbury, Newbury, and Amesbury.

MassDOT’s Whittier Bridge/I-95 Improvement Project, with construction well underway, includes a new shared-use path along I-95 over the Merrimack River. This will be Massachusetts’ very first bicycle/pedestrian path located on an interstate highway bridge. The path will offer an essential connection between the Amesbury Riverwalk and the Ghost Trail in Salisbury and increase access to recreation, including nearby Moseley Woods and Maudslay State Park in Newburyport. With completion slated for 2016, the path will offer additional travel options for reaching the special destinations and varied natural resources the region has to offer.

Model rendering of the Merrimack River overlook on the new Whittier Bridge. (Visualization credit: Parsons Brinckerhoff)

Model rendering of the Merrimack River overlook on the new Whittier Bridge. (Visualization credit: Parsons Brinckerhoff)

Beginning at the Park & Ride lot in Newburyport (Exit 57 off I-95) at Route 113, the new path will run adjacent to the I-95 northbound roadway, cross the Merrimack River on the new northbound Whittier Bridge span, leave the I-95 roadway, and run east to the intersection of Route 110 with Merrill Street and Rabbit Road in Salisbury. MassDOT will build a new parking lot at the northern trailhead at Old Merrill Street in Amesbury. A new connection to the shared-use path will also be provided at Ferry Road in Newburyport.

The shared-use path over the Whittier Bridge will feature three overlooks, one at either end of the arch span, and one at the south abutment. At the overlooks, path users will be able to rest, take in views of the Merrimack River and adjacent parkland, and observe nearby boating and wildlife activities. The path will feature 16 interpretive panels placed at eight key locations such as the overlooks and trailheads.

The “Deer Island Crossing” interpretive panel, to be installed on the shared-use path, provides a history of the crossing over the Merrimack River.  (Credit: Whittier Working Group and BETA Group, Inc.)

The “Deer Island Crossing” interpretive panel, to be installed on the shared-use path, provides a history of the crossing over the Merrimack River.
(Credit: Whittier Working Group and BETA Group, Inc.)

The panels were developed by a committee of local officials and residents, with the assistance of MassDOT and its design consultant. The signs will explain topics of interest such as natural history, local Native American history, transportation, industrial development and shipbuilding, John Greenleaf Whittier, and the history of Amesbury and Newburyport. The trailheads in Newburyport and Amesbury will include picnic areas, wayfinding maps, and interpretive signs.

MassDOT is creatively reusing elements of the old bridge at the trailheads, including two large granite state seals and the existing John Whittier Memorial. Granite veneer and capstone from the wall adjacent to the existing bridge abutment will be repurposed as benches. One bench will display a refurbished bronze builders’ plaque honoring the original bridge.

The “History of the Whittier Bridge” interpretive panel, to be installed on the shared-use path, shows historic images of the original bridge. (Credit: Whittier Working Group and BETA Group, Inc.)

The “History of the Whittier Bridge” interpretive panel, to be installed on the shared-use path, shows historic images of the original bridge.
(Credit: Whittier Working Group and BETA Group, Inc.)

Preliminary construction on the Whittier Bridge walkway and overlooks has just begun. The path will open for public use when the project is complete in late 2016. Continue to follow the progress of the Whittier Bridge/I-95 Improvement Project by visiting the project website and signing up for email updates. Be sure to also check out construction progress photos on the Whittier Bridge’s Flickr album.

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