EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 5, 2014

Salem, Windham asked to approve rail trail money

Project would be mostly grant funded

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM — If voters fail to adopt warrant articles in Salem and Windham next month, it could have a big impact on the rail trail project in both towns.

But organizers are confident residents will see the benefits of a nearly 9-mile bicycle and walking trail stretching through the two communities.

David Topham isn’t worried.

He is co-chairman of the Friends of Salem Bike-Ped Corridor, a group that’s been pushing for the project for 15 years.

“I think enough people have heard about this project,” Topham said yesterday.

The organization would foot 25 percent of the $1.1 million Salem portion of the project, providing voters grant their approval.

For the work to proceed, Salem residents must accept $1,097,000 in donations and federal grant money for the 5.1-mile project in their community. No money would be raised through taxes.

In Windham, voters will be asked to approve $180,000 to complete the remaining 2,000 feet of the 3.6 mile-project in that town, according to Mark Samsel, president of the Windham Rail Trail Alliance. Taxpayers would be asked to foot $45,000 with the rest funded through grant money.

“I’m confident they will approve it,” Samsel said.

The project is being done in conjunction with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, with 75 percent of the work funded through grant money.

Salem voters were given a brief overview of the project during the town’s deliberative session Saturday. Selectmen heard a presentation on the project from an engineering consultant at their meeting Monday night.

Failure to support the rail trail at the polls and receive the necessary donations could have a drastic impact, Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey said.

“The project won’t be starting,” he told voters Saturday.

Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. agreed.

“The intention of the board is not to do the job if we don’t have the funds,” McBride said.

Hickey told selectmen if Windham doesn’t approve the funding request, there’s a good chance that part of the project won’t be completed. But Samsell said yesterday his organization is determined to have the work done.

Friends of Salem Bike-Ped Corridor must also come up with their $229,000 share, Hickey said. The group already has donated $27,000, including $4,500 presented to selectmen Monday night.

Topham said that won’t be problem. Approximately $100,000 has been raised by his organization and there are guaranteed funding commitments for the remainder, he said. The town would be presented with a check after the March vote, he said.

Preliminary work on the Salem portion took place last summer and fall. An organization of railroad enthusiasts, Iron Horse Preservation Society of Nevada, removed old railroad ties and rails along the route. A preliminary coat of recycled asphalt was laid in August.

The major work is scheduled for 2015. Salem’s consultant, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, is completing an engineering study and selectmen will continue to review the project at their meeting next week.

The work in Salem and Windham is part of the 115-mile Granite State Trail that extends from northern Massachusetts to near the Vermont border. Derry withdrew from the three-town effort.