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Somersworth officials hope upgrades are starting point

Union Leader Correspondent

April 04. 2013 10:09PM

SOMERSWORTH - City officials hope investing about $7 million on three projects will help encourage vitality in the community, according to Economic Development Manager Christine Davis.

One of the projects could begin replacing downtown infrastructure along sections of High, Main and Market streets sometime in the summer, according to Dave Sharples, the city's director of planning and community development.

On March 25, the City Council decided on one of four proposals - Option C - as the base of the concept for a Downtown Infrastructure Project.

Estimated to cost $4,746,680, the project will make improvements to curbs, crosswalks, sidewalks, sewer lines, water mains, drainage and electrical conduits.

"There's still a lot of leeway with the details," Sharples said, adding engineers at Tanner Hoyle Associates, in Manchester, should have a design ready in about eight weeks.

"They wanted to do something about the streets, but they wanted to do it right," Sharples said, adding the project would replace water lines that have been in use for a century.

Sharples said the city is using a $475,000 Federal Transportation Enhancements Grant to help beautify the streets by adding trees, planters and gateway signage in the downtown area. He added the city is responsible for paying 20 percent of the cost through local funds, which is $9,500.

The city is also working with state officials, counterparts in Maine and railroad officials on a design to renovate the Route 9 bridge over the Salmon Falls River.

Sharples said the project, which could cost between $1 -2 million, would replace the deck and superstructure of the bridge while adding attractive railings and lighting.

If all goes well, Sharples said construction on the bridge - which serves as an important gateway between Somersworth and Berwick, Maine - could begin in 2014.

Sharples said the projects will "really spruce things up in the downtown."

Davis said the upgrades should encourage local landlords and businesses to make improvements to their buildings in the downtown area.

As a result, she added, more area residents will be drawn to downtown as has happened in Newmarket and Dover.

"We're trying to make it more of a destination," Davis said, adding she's spoken to officials and businesses in Newmarket and plans to talk to others in Dover to understand how to improve the process.

Officials are attempting to work with residents, businesses and the contractor to reduce the impact of the projects on the community.

"If you're going to rip apart a road, you're going to have an impact," Sharples said, adding they're considering working at night or on weekends, having an accelerated schedule and getting input from businesses.

Davis said she will serve as a liaison for businesses to voice their comments, concerns or suggestions about the project.

Sharples stressed how residents have also had opportunities to comment on the projects and are encouraged to participate in the process. He expects officials to discuss the transportation grant project in the next few weeks.

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