Haverhill hopes to win $2.2 million from the state for improvements to the Bradford rail trail, including adding "pocket parks" with benches and lights.
The city has applied for the money through a state grant program. Haverhill filed for the grant last year and the project was included in the state's Transportation Improvement Plan for the 2014 fiscal year.
"This is only preliminary," Mayor James Fiorentini said. "But we are thrilled with this step. ... My goal is to create a series of parks and trails along the river."
The project will be up for a vote at the next Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting later this month. If it is approved, it must then be approved by both the state and federal governments.
The trail opened to walkers last year, running along the Bradford side of the Merrimack River between the Basiliere Bridge and the Comeau Bridge.
Fiorentini said he hopes to begin adding parks to the trail and making other improvements in two years.
Haverhill has hired the Stantec company to design the improvements, and the company will work closely with City Engineer John Pettis to complete the project. Stantec worked on the project to refurbish Trinity Stadium, which included installing artificial turf.
A new surface is also needed for the rail trail.
"Getting a new hardened surface is the biggest thing," Pettis said. "Right now it is just gravel."
The city received a grant of $200,000 from the state to help design the trail. The money comes from the same grant that helped provide cash for street improvements near the new downtown parking garage.
Pettis said the city plans to add what he calls pocket parks — areas along the trail where walkers can relax and take a break. Pettis said the city hopes to add benches and lights to those areas.
The design work is still in its early stages. Once 25 percent of the design is completed, Fiorentini said, he will approach the state to see if construction can begin.
"The earliest we can start right now is in October of 2013," Pettis said.
Fiorentini said he anticipates construction on the trail to be completed by 2015 and possibly sooner.
There will also be safety improvements made to the trail. Designers would like to make the area around South Elm Street more accessible so walkers can easily go from the trail to the Bradford train station without crossing a busy intersection.
The mayor said that there will be much public outreach to neighbors close to the trail. So far, he has not heard any complaints, he said.
The city bought the trail, which is about two-thirds of a mile long, from Pan Am Railways in 2008 for $500,000. About $400,000 of that money came from a state grant, with the rest coming from private donations from the Haverhill Foundation business organization.
Fiorentini hopes to eventually extend the rail trail to go under the Basiliere Bridge toward the Crescent Yacht Club, which would add approximately three-quarters of a mile to the trail.
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to hgazette.com.