AUBURN – A long-awaited riverside bicycle and walking path under Court Street should be finished this fall, according to city officials.

Heavy machinery began digging the new path last week on the north side of Longley Bridge, just above the river. When it’s finished in November, the path will extend under the bridge, connecting Great Falls Plaza, the Hilton Garden Inn hotel and West Pitch Park to the city’s Riverwalk.

“They have to build a couple of abutments with overlooks to connect with the paths below,” said Community Services Director Eric Labelle. “The bridge won’t be touched; the path will go right below it. It’ll cross right under and match right with the trail system.”

Officials have been planning the underpass for a number of years. An earlier plan received state and federal funding in 2003, but work stopped short of going under the bridge.

The city extended the Riverwalk path from Festival Plaza to the southern edge of Court Street in July 2006. That involved building a new path along the river, behind Gritty McDuff’s brew pub and a flat landing directly beneath Longley Bridge.

A stairway connecting Court Street to the Riverwalk below opened in summer 2007. That lets pedestrians continue walking along the river without having to detour up Main Street, but it doesn’t go under Court Street.

The city received a $600,000 grant from the state’s current budget, but bids came in $45,000 higher. The state agreed to give the additional $45,000 to complete the project this month.

“It’s going to be one of those amenities that’s going to bring a lot to the city,” Labelle said. “It can be hard to quantify for some, just connecting a trail. But other communities have found a real benefit by connecting athletic trails, and I think people are really going to appreciate it.”

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