The Merritt Parkway is one of the top 11 most endangered historic places in the country, warns the National Trust for Historic Places.
A bridge over the Merritt Parkway in Stratford.
Spanning 37.5 distinctive miles and celebrated for its diverse collection of decorative bridges and lush, natural landscaping, the Merritt Parkway remains, 70 years after it was constructed, one of America’s most scenic roads, according to the trust. To accommodate increased traffic on the parkway, the trust charges, the cash-strapped Connecticut Department of Transportation is not performing necessary maintenance and has moved to realign roads, replace bridges and redesign interchanges, all at the cost of the parkway’s unique character.
“We hope the designation will galvanize both support and funding to ensure that future generations can enjoy the famous bridges and natural beauty of what is truly a local, state and national treasure,” said Peter Malkin, chairman of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy.
The nonprofit group has been working to preserve the parkway’s character. A district court judge ruled in favor of the conservancy’s lawsuit filed against the Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut DOT to halt construction of the Main Avenue interchange in Norwalk. The group also opened a museum on the Merritt at the Ryder’s Landing Shopping Center, 6580 Main St. in Stratford (exit 53). The museum is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Even today, the parkway is still one of America’s prettiest stretches of road. The Merritt, celebrated for its diverse collection of Art Deco, Gothic, French Renaissance and Art Moderne bridges, was the state’s first divided-lane, limited-access highway.
Called the “Gateway to New England,” the parkway, which is still a major commuter thoroughfare, starts at the New York-Connecticut state line in Greenwich and winds its way up to Stratford. Named for a Connecticut congressman, the Merritt was designed by a team of engineers and architects who recognized the importance of incorporating the existing landscape into the road’s overall plan. The parkway’s median strip and embankments were designed to be park-like with native vegetation, and vistas were cut through the dense undergrowth and forestation to afford motorists fleeting glimpses of the passing countryside.
Although the National Trust for Historic Preservation gave the state DOT an Honor Award in 1995 for sensitive preservation of the Merritt Parkway, much has changed in recent years. Fairfield County, where the Merritt is located, is the most populous county in Connecticut, and its growth is straining the state’s infrastructure. To accommodate increased traffic on the parkway, ConnDOT has moved to solve the problem through road realignment, bridge replacement and interchange redesign, causing the parkway’s unique character is being sacrificed.
The parkway, which has always been free of trucks and advertising, was created as an outgrowth of the City Beautiful Movement, a progressive architectural and urban planning reform movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.