Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Thanks to community commitment that spans three towns and miles of promise for the future of transportation, the Southern New Hampshire Rail Trail Alliance will be getting $1.2 million in state and federal funding to split three ways and continue construction of a regional bike path.
The announcement was made yesterday that the $1,272,000 grant would be awarded by the Transportation Enhancement Program, a division of the state Department of Transportation. The rail trail project is one of 17 that was selected to receive a share of the $6 million in grant money offered annually through state and federal initiatives.
Bill Watson, administrator of the Bureau of Planning and Community Alliance, said the announcement is “huge” for the tri-town rail trail alliance, and is a nod to the cooperation they have achieved in working toward a common goal.
“This is absolutely huge for Windham, Salem and Derry, a decision that had much to do with there being a solid and shovel-ready project with widespread community support,” Watson said.
One of the criteria is that a project promotes the idea of a “liveable community,” a key selling point of the project. The original efforts by the Derry Rail Trail Alliance quickly gained support from neighboring organizations, the Windham Rail Trail Alliance and the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor Committee. The Southern New Hampshire Rail Trail Alliance includes two members from each of the three organizations, with the goal of pooling manpower and funding to complete a cohesive 13.3 mile trail between the three towns.
Ultimately, the vision is for an alternative route for foot and bike traffic stretching from Salem to Concord, providing “intermodal transportation,” the current buzz word among those looking to reduce motor traffic on major throughways, like Dave Topham. He belong to the Bike Walk Alliance of New Hampshire, a 22-town collective of like-minded groups pushing ahead with the vision of an alternative transportation corridor.
“Theoretically, people could bike to the park-and-ride at Exit 2 in Salem, or Exit 5 in Derry, load their bike into the luggage compartment of the bus, then take the bus to their destination. From there, they could bike to a train or get wherever they were going,” Topham said.
Watson said once the grant process is completed and an allocation schedule is finalized, funding from the grant for reimbursement of construction costs should be available to the towns by the fall.
“It's been a long, arduous process, one we knew was a long shot, which is why we're so excited about this,” said Erich Whitney, president of the Derry Rail Trail Alliance. “This confirms that the state is beginning to share our vision, which was to take a resource that was going to waste and use it to bring communities together.”
He said the rail trail is an investment in the future for those who will begin to use it, not just for recreation, but to travel in a greener, more health-conscious way.
"Our hope is that, one day, people won't remember living without the rail trail," Whitney said. "I hope that's the legacy we leave."