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Nashua;14.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-11-29 03:29:37
Thursday, July 17, 2014

Extending Nashua Rail Trail to Merrimack River hits a stumbling block

NASHUA – The city is still working to acquire two vacant properties and a steel bridge on Commercial Street that will pave the way for the opening of an eastern section of the Heritage Rail Trail.

Nashua was given a transportation enhancement grant, through the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, to purchase land or easements on two properties along the former abandoned railroad corridor and railroad bridge over Commercial Street. ...

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NASHUA – The city is still working to acquire two vacant properties and a steel bridge on Commercial Street that will pave the way for the opening of an eastern section of the Heritage Rail Trail.

Nashua was given a transportation enhancement grant, through the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, to purchase land or easements on two properties along the former abandoned railroad corridor and railroad bridge over Commercial Street.

The parcels are the last remaining areas the city needs to obtain public access for the future trail from Main Street to Temple Street.

Dubbed “Heritage Rail Trail East,” the path would be an extension of Nashua’s existing 1.3-mile Heritage Rail Trail, which runs from Simon Street to Main Street, parallel to West Hollis Street. It is on land that once carried Boston & Maine Railroad’s Worcester-Nashua line.

The trail opened in 1999, and city officials have long envisioned extending it east toward the Merrimack River. The city previously secured federal money to acquire other properties along the abandoned rail corridor.

One of the two remaining parcels the city is looking to acquire measures a third of an acre, adjacent to Howard Street, between Spruce and Commercial streets; the other is a quarter-acre, stretching between Mason and Spruce streets.

Aldermen signed off on the idea of acquiring the land nearly two years ago. City officials had hoped to wrap up the acquisition process sooner, but Nashua Planning Department Director Roger Houston said using federal funds requires a lengthy approval process, including an environmental review.

“We thought back then that we could avoid that process, but we have to go through that process,” he said.

As part of the review, Houston recently solicited comments from more than 20 groups, including the fire department and the city Planning Board, which gave the trail extension a favorable recommendation.

Houston said once the initial comment period closes, the city will request a programmatic exclusion to try to speed along the review process. The city also must negotiate deals with the current owners of the two parcels.

Since the Heritage Rail Trail was first conceived, Houston said, the concept has been to eventually connect the path with residential areas east of Main Street, such as the Renaissance development being planned for the Bridge Street area.

Linking the trail to Crown Street also could provide a connection for walkers and cyclists to reach the site that is being eyed as a future passenger rail station in Nashua.

Houston said he hopes that in the future, the trail will allow people living in downtown Nashua to bicycle to a new transportation hub on Crown Street and ride the train into Boston.

“The idea is to provide as many conveyance modes as possible,” Houston said.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).