Route 7 Interchange
A Longstanding Conflict Resolved
2023 marked a major milestone for the Conservancy. We reached consensus among our stakeholder partners, the CT Department of Transportation (CT DOT), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on a positive path forward to reconfigure the “super 7” and old main Avenue interchanges in Norwalk.
The Merritt Parkway Conservancy was founded on the premise that this essential part of the state highway system can be successfully upgraded for 21st century traffic without harming it’s park-like beauty and losing the sense of delight it offers people who drive it. That is why we took legal action in 2005 to stop construction of an unnecessarily oversized network of new bridges and flyover ramps when CT DOT began demolishing the Main Avenue bridge to start the project. Not only was the new interchange planned without any consideration of the Merritt’s character or meaningful public consultation, but it also entailed destroying four historic bridges and more than a mile of designed landscape and adding over four miles of new roadway. The Conservancy, joined by our partners the National Trust for Historic Preservation, CT Trust for Historic Preservation (now Preservation CT), Sierra Club, Norwalk Land Trust, Norwalk River Watershed Association, and Norwalk Preservation Trust obtained an injunction on March 31, 2006, when U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz ruled in our favor that the FHWA and CT DOT had failed to explore "all possible planning to minimize harm" to the historic parkway as required by Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (1966).
The ruling set-in motion a focused process of public engagement between the transportation agencies and citizen stakeholders to develop an alternative that complied with transportation, preservation and environmental regulations while meeting the needs of stakeholders, including our partner litigants, nearby neighborhood associations and business interests, and municipal representatives of Norwalk and Wilton. Engagement started in 2008, was halted by the economic crash of 2009, and resumed in 2016. More than 26 alternative configurations were ultimately considered and screened against objective criteria, resulting in the selection of two alternatives by consensus for more intensive environmental review. The layouts and comments on the 26 alternatives can be viewed here:
The Conservancy concurs with the final environmental assessment that Alternative 26 minimizes harm to the Merritt while accomplishing the most challenging transportation objectives of the interchange, namely the safe and complete connection between two limited access highways, and increasing capacity for pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic below the Merritt in an area of Main Avenue experiencing rapid urbanization. Compared with all but one other alternative, Alternative 26 is at least half the size in terms of new paving and structures, and preliminary estimates are half the cost. Its compact footprint, made possible by the use of traffic signals where it joins the I-95 connector, has the least impact on existing wetlands, and nets the greatest gain of greenspace. The replacement of the historic Main Avenue bridge is an inevitable loss, but will be mitigated by increased participation by stakeholders in the design of the new bridge and landscape, and the creation of an on-line geo-coded web platform maintained by the Conservancy to more fully convey the Merritt’s history to the public.
2005 Original plan (above) and Alternative 26 approved 2023 (below)