A bridge, a park, or both? Residents brainstorm visions for an elevated connection between downtown and the river

A map of state, railroad and other privately owned land between downtown and the river from the feasibility study. City land, which presents environmental challenges, is shown in green. 

A map of state, railroad and other privately owned land between downtown and the river from the feasibility study. City land, which presents environmental challenges, is shown in green.  Courtesy photo—

A bridge and park in Dublin, Ohio offered by engineers as potential inspiration for a bridge in Concord.

A bridge and park in Dublin, Ohio offered by engineers as potential inspiration for a bridge in Concord. Courtesy

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 02-29-2024 5:03 PM

An ampitheater, a boathouse, botanical gardens, a sauna, or, perhaps, just a footbridge — about two dozen members of the public joined civil engineers to explore what a public bridge and park over the highway, connecting downtown and the riverfront, might include if it’s ever built. 

“Some of the guidance we’ve been given as a design team and as a city is to think big, think outside the box, push the boundaries and let the boundaries push back. And that’s why we’re here,” said Greg Bakus of the Vermont-based consulting firm VHB. 

As the state’s plans to widen Interstate 93 in the Concord area gain momentum — though final plans have not been presented — the city has revived conversations around an extension of downtown pedestrian traffic towards the Merrimack River that it first explored in the mid-2000s. If Concord does want a bridge park, construction on the highway presents a window. The city approved a $200,000 feasibility last summer to explore what some kind of public space spanning the highway, and maybe also the river, could look like — and what it might cost. A listening session held last week contributed to the first part of that process. 

With land constraints, different designs for the bridge are still within the scope of imagination. Its overall size, whether the bridge should cross the Merrimack river or stop at its west bank, and where exactly it would be located are all still under consideration. 

In breakout groups, members of the public floated their visions. Some of those included a high level of outdoor recreation additions: a climbing wall, a boathouse for canoes and kayaks to paddle the river, and winter features like a hothouse. Others highlighted public gathering options, like the ability to bring food carts, visual art, music and even retail. Others offered a more streamlined preference, preferring “just a bridge” instead of a deck park with full amenities. 

Some constraints on the proposition have emerged. The city owns no land between Storrs Street and the river, and would need easements from some, if not all, of the landowners, which includes the state and the railroad company. Healy Park, south of downtown near Manchester Street, is the only exception, and is both full of wetlands and historically has issues with contamination. A floodplain on the east side of the river presents a challenge and the steepness of the slope on the west bank would make a deck park difficult to be ADA-compliant. 

Engineers said landowners have been somewhat amenable to hearing out the project: “They understand that a bridge park could help them not hurt them,” Bakus said. 

With the addition of design options, another public meeting to present alternatives and a presentation to the council ahead, the study is scheduled to continue into the fall. 

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