The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) is conducting a Feasibility Study, funded through a $1.1 million grant from the National Scenic Byways Program. The study will inventory the natural and cultural resources within the Merritt corridor. Conceptual designs and trail alignment, located in the south side of the right-of-way (north bound traffic lanes), will be developed along the entire length of the Parkway. At the end of the study a feasibility determination by CTDOT will be made as to further develop the multi-use trail.
The Merritt Parkway Conservancy is opposed to the multi-use trail because it will cause detrimental effects to the environment and the character defining features of the Parkway. MPC is concerned there is no supporting documentation on future utilization of the trail based on current trail demands in Fairfield County; and no analysis on the number of commuters that will use the trail instead of traveling by car.
Clear-cutting of trees for a 14' swath in the right-of-way and trimming of adjacent trees. The trail is a 10' wide strip of pavement with two 2' shoulders with emergency vehicle access. This will require thousands of trees and shrubs to be removed.
The trail discussions have noted the positive health impacts of exercise and recreation. However, the importance of the functional value of our urban forest has been largely ignored. The Merritt's greenway is critical in producing clean air, improved water quality, preventing soil erosion, reducing storm water runoff and making Fairfield County more livable. The greenway is also a capital investment that would be depleted and would not be replaced in kind. In a 50-year life span, one tree generates $32,000 worth of oxygen, $62,000 of air pollution control, $37,500 of water and $31,000 of soil erosion (US Forest Service).
The loss of trees will also threaten the biodiversity of wildlife and the many ecosystems in the greenway for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Much of the land along the road is undisturbed, as CTDOT does not permit recreational activities in the right-of-way. The proposed plan with impervious trail surface, boardwalks and fencing will fragment and degrade the continuous tract of land that supports biodiversity today.
Views are despoiled. The trail will include chain link fence on both sides of the paved path. Additional lighting and intersection signage will spill onto the Merritt and neighboring properties. The Merritt Parkway was designed to highlight the natural beauty of the countryside and enjoy scenic views from the road. Granted, the landscape has transformed from a park-like setting to a forested greenway, but it is still valued as an aesthetically pleasing route. Numerous studies support the restorative effects of viewing nature in an urban environment (Ulrich, 1991 & Kaplan, 1995). We are fortunate to have the choice of traveling on a National Scenic Byway instead of I-95.
Planned construction of elevated boardwalks, tunnels, bridges and retaining walls. In order to cross wetlands, rivers, and meet ADA grade requirements, major construction of unattractive structures will be visible from the Parkway, further diminishing the character of the Merritt.
The Merritt Parkway was a road planned to be distinctive in both architecture and design. The bridges are a significant achievement in public architecture and the landscape architecture neatly blended the road into its natural surroundings. Legislation ensured the Parkway would be free of advertising and trucks. The additional structures in the landscape, tunnels adjacent to the bridge abutments and signage will blight the Parkway and permanently alter the landscape.
Limited trail access. There is a lack of supporting transportation services as the Parkway has limited train and bus access with parking limited to a handful of Park and Ride lots. Neighborhood streets may become inviting parking areas for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Trail location is a considerable distance from town and city centers. The Merritt Trail is primarily a recreational trail. It doesn't address the needs of daily travel connecting neighborhoods with schools, transportation hubs, retail and business centers. The South Western Region Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan analyzed the results of the 2006-2011 American Community Survey of bicycle and walk commuters. The largest populations of walk and bicycle commuters live in Greenwich, Norwalk and Stamford. "Within these communities, bike and walk commuters are concentrated in and around central business districts, which are characterized as relatively dense residential and commercial areas as well as the presence of sidewalks and transit service." (SWRPA, 2013).
Stamford and Greenwich, as well as many other towns along the Merritt, do not have bike lanes from the Parkway to town centers. The Connecticut Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board (2013 Annual Report) has recommended CTDOT to adopt a formal policy focusing on transit-oriented development. Aggressive implementation of a Complete Streets policy will provide greater access from homes-to work-to town centers and serve a greater population than recreational users of the multi-use trail. On- street bike lanes are accessible 24 hours a day and during the winter months. The Merritt trail will not have lights and will not be plowed in the winter.
$200 - $250M construction cost - $6.6M per mile. CTDOT does not have funding for construction and does not plan to maintain the trail outside of major capital repairs. The burden of maintaining the trail would be transferred to neighboring municipalities.
Trail maintenance is critical as lack of maintenance has a detrimental affect on safety. Graffiti, trash, dog waste, and general upkeep of a trail suggest that there is lack of care or security. Without funding, and clearly defined responsibilities by local municipalities and CTDOT, maintenance issues on pavement and fence repairs, signage replacement and landscaping may be ignored (Sidewalks and Shared-Use Paths: Safety, Security and Maintenance, 2007). It seems unclear if the municipalities along the Parkway are willing to provide annual trail maintenance funding.
CTDOT is committed to upgrading the Parkway through a series of Safety Improvement, Resurfacing, Enhancements and Bridge Improvements Projects. The projects include bridge restoration, installation of wood faced railing, drainage improvements, landscaping and paving. Most recently, the 9-mile Fairfield/Trumbull project was completed in 2012 at a cost of $70.7M and the current 6.5-mile Stamford/New Canaan project cost is $57M. MPC expects CTDOT to secure funding for the completion of the Parkway safety and enhancement projects in the towns of New Canaan, Norwalk and Westport and not to divert funding to a trail. Funding for these projects benefit the 70,000 daily travelers on the Merritt.
MPC endorses additional funding to make our roads safer and increase capacity for bicyclists and pedestrians in the town centers where we live, work and commute.
For more information on the Housatonic Watershed visit www.hvatoday.org