Merritt Trails: State honors ‘park’ in Parkway

The Department of Transportation is conducting a feasibility study for a bicycle and pedestrian trail along the Merritt Parkway. Shown is a view of the parkway from the Congress Street bridge in Fairfield. (Thomas Nash photo)

The Department of Transportation is conducting a feasibility study for a bicycle and pedestrian trail along the Merritt Parkway. Shown is a view of the parkway from the Congress Street bridge in Fairfield. (Thomas Nash photo)

These days, most Connecticut motorists think of logjams when conjuring up images of the Merritt Parkway. However, when the winding roadway that stretches from the Sikorsky Bridge in Stratford to Greenwich was opened on June 29, 1938, it was considered one of the architectural wonders of the 20th century.

Although many residents refer to all of Route 15 as the Merritt Parkway, that portion of the roadway that extends from Milford to Wallingford is actually the Wilbur Cross Parkway. But for all intent and purpose it is the same road.

The Merritt Parkway is one of the few highways in the United States that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and now the state Department of Transportation (DOT), with some help from the federal government, is trying to restore a little of that lost luster to this Nutmeg State landmark.

The communities along the parkway include Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Norwalk, Westport, Fairfield, Trumbull and Stratford. Some of the existing trails in this area include the Mianus River Greenway in Stamford and Greenwich, the Rippowam/Mill River Greenway in Stamford, the Norwalk River Valley Trail and the Pequonnock Trail in Trumbull.

The DOT is currently conducting a study funded by National Scenic Byways, a part of the United States Department of Transportation, and holding frequent public hearings to determine the feasibility of constructing an additional trail for bicyclists and pedestrians along the 37.5 stretch of Route 15 that is the Merritt Parkway. One of the goals of the study is to determine the best topographical scenario for the proposed trail.

According to the state DOT website, “The study will involve an inventory of all wetlands and watercourses along the Merritt Parkway, of which there are many. Some, such as the Saugatuck and Mill Rivers, are quite substantial. This portion of the environmental assessment will also consider potential impacts to existing wildlife or other important ecological resources.”

The public hearings and trail study are only the beginning of what could be a lengthy process. If the trail gets the nod after the study is completed and public input is analyzed, funding will be the next step, with a mix of state and federal dollars being essential to complete the project.

Besides cost, other factors that need to be taken into account are wetlands preservation, nearby neighborhoods, landscape, accommodations for people with disabilities and safety.

The proposed Merritt Parkway trail would be built south of the parkway, where there is more land available for such a comprehensive project. DOT officials said that the concept of building a trail along the highway was first proposed decades ago.

Among the benefits that could be derived by building a trail are increased tourism and economic development, enhancing the state’s green footprint and using the trail as a “Welcome to Connecticut” feature.

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