River crossing to reconnect town split by highway

MERRIMACK – A long-awaited river crossing under Merrill’s Marauders Bridge is in the works for Merrimack, a project that would connect halves of the town that are divided by the turnpike.

Audley Construction, of Bow, which is handling the bridge construction project, has agreed to sell the town two steel girders from the old bridge for use as a Souhegan River crossing, Town Manager Keith Hickey confirmed last week.

“That was great news to us,” said Andy Powell, a member of the Merrill’s Marauders Bridge trails committee.

The crossing would be a significant step in a townwide goal to link the town center area, trails and school district land with Wildcat Falls on the north side of the Souhegan River. A crossing, others have said, would provide pedestrian and bicycle access to residents, and student access to the river for school projects.

Such a goal has been on the town’s radar for some time. The idea gained ground recently because the state won’t be keeping the original girders. It would cost more to paint them than to replace them with new steel and would meet strict environmental regulations, said Paul Nadeau, the state civil engineer overseeing the project.

Audley will sell the beams and then sand, paint and set them on bridge footings for $5,000, Hickey said. The footings would need to be engineered, a piece the town would need to fund or get donated.

The trails committee’s goal is to have town council approval to finalize planning with estimated construction costs by late fall, Hickey said.

The work might occur next summer, Powell said, but the public couldn’t use the crossing until Merrill’s Marauders Bridge is done – estimated in 2011.

In the meantime, the committee is also working on linking trails in the area of the bridge.

The state owns a plot of land on the northwest side of the bridge project, and Powell hopes they will donate or sell it to Merrimack. Doing so would close a loop that connects a trail hitting the Wildcat Falls area, Baboosic Lake Road, Watson Park and the Souhegan River.