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Is it necessary to drop my geometric network to merge network edge features?
No, you do not need to drop your geometric network in order to merge network edge features. While the Merge command is disabled for network edge features, you can programmatically merge edge features.
The Merge Network Features developer sample illustrates one possible methodology for merging edge features. The sample makes use of merge rules and also establishes mid-span connectivity of junctions when complex edges are merged. This functionality can be modified so that the sample conforms to a specific workflow.
For ArcGIS 8.x the developer sample is available from Arcobjects Online and for ArcGIS 9.x it is available from ArcGIS Developer Online. For both sites the sample is under Samples > Editing > Working with Network Features > Merge Network Features.