The Connecticut Department of Transportation plans a $1.3 million study to decide if a Multi-Use Trail alongside the Merritt Parkway makes sense.
The proposed trail would stretch 37.5-miles from the New York State border in Greenwich to the Sikorsky Bridge and Housatonic River in Stratford. It would follow the undeveloped highway right-of-way and use the already existing wooded buffer between the roadway and abutting properties, according to the department.
“One of our goals is that it celebrates the Parkway and isn’t just a means to go from point A to point B,” said Will Britnell, a principal engineer with the department’s state highway design unit. “It’s a very different viewpoint when you walk along the road. There is the potential for exploration of the Parkway you don’t get at 50 or 60 miles an hour.”
David Kooris, of the Regional Plan Association, lauds the study. The nonprofit urban planning research and education center said a trail could create needed green space.
“This study marks a sea change in the DOT. For decades, they refused to contemplate the trail because of an adherence to the idea that they would one day need to expand the parkway,” Kooris said. “Finally, they realize that this will never happen and the creation of transportation alternatives near the county is a more essential and less intrusive strategy that will add far more value to our communities than two more lanes of highway.”
ConnDot will hold information sessions during the next 18 months where trail advocates and opponents can offer suggestions. But first the department will meet with town officials from the eight towns along the Merritt Parkway.
Britnell expects residents living along the parkway to be wary about a trail that abuts their backyard. Other concerns will likely have include security, in particular access to the trail and nearby roads.
It’s a highly trafficked road, and not just by cars.
Deer and coyote have been spotted along the Parkway, and even a mountain lion. The department will therefore document environmentally sensitive areas and come up with ways to avoid them. If the plan goes forward the department will coordinate with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the State Historic Preservation Commission.
Aside from conservation, cost is of concern.
“I expect it will be very, very expensive. I don’t even want to put a price tag on it,” Britnell said
If the project eventually wins approval the department will seek grants to help defray the costs. A National Scenic Byways Program grant covered 80 percent of the current study. State monies are funding the rest.
For those asking why ConnDot chose now to launch the study, Britnell said the concept actually dates back to the Parkway’s construction. However, it got sidelined and sidetracked over the past several decades. Then, in recent years greenway advocates resurrected the trail concept.
“It’s been kicking around for a while,” Britnell said. “Bike advocates have brought it up if not forever, for at least the past 10 years.”
If done correctly, the trail would feed into the county's growing trail system, Kooris said. It could complement the East Coast Greenway running from Maine to Florida. And, as Kooris dares to dream, the Merritt trail could someday connect the Mianus, Rippowam, Norwalk, Saugatuck, Pequonnock and Housatonic greenways.
“Many of the north-south trails are under construction to some degree so this future is not so far fetched,” he said. “In short, the trail will be a phenomenal asset to the county and state which suffer from a lack of greenways and off-road trails.”