Trails for the Merritt? State might honor the ‘park’ in Parkway

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 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, the portion of the roadway that extends from Milford to Wallingford is actually called the Wilbur Cross Parkway. But for all intent and purpose it is the same road.

National Register of Historic Places

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 Stratford, Trumbull, Fairfield, Westport, Norwalk, New Canaan, Stamford and Greenwich. It is about a mile south of the Shelton border when it passes through parts of Trumbull and Stratford.

Some of the existing trails in this area include the Pequonnock Trail in Trumbull, the Norwalk River Valley Trail, the Rippowam/Mill River Greenway in Stamford, and the Mianus River Greenway.

Merritt is almost 38 miles long

The DOT is currently conducting a study funded by National Scenic Byways, a part of the U.S. 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-mile stretch of 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.”

Funds to build a trail

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.

Trail would be on southern side

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.