Merritt Parkway

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Merritt Pkwy Shield.svgConnecticut Highway 15.svg

Merritt Parkway
Route information
Length: 37.27 mi (59.98 km)
Existed: 1938 – present
Tourist
routes:
Merritt Parkway
Restrictions: No commercial vehicles, trailers, towed vehicles, buses, or hearses[1]
Major junctions
South end: Hutchinson River Parkway in Rye Brook, NY
  US 7 in Norwalk
Route 8 in Trumbull
North end: Route 15 (Wilbur Cross Parkway) in Milford, CT
Highway system
Merritt Parkway
Architect Connecticut Highway Department; et al.
Architectural style Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Modern Movement
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 91000410
Added to NRHP April 17, 1991[2]

The Merritt Parkway is a historic limited-access parkway in Fairfield County, Connecticut. The parkway is known for its scenic layout, its uniquely styled signage, and the architecturally elaborate overpasses along the route. It is designated as a National Scenic Byway and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.[3] Signed as part of Route 15, it runs from the New York state line in Greenwich, where it serves as the continuation of the Hutchinson River Parkway, to the Housatonic River in Stratford, where the Wilbur Cross Parkway begins. On May 19, 2010, the parkway was named one of America's Most Endangered Historic Places.[4] The parkway was named for U.S. Congressman Schuyler Merritt.

Route description[edit]

The Parkway is one of a handful of United States highways listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is acknowledged for the beauty of the forest that it passes through, as well as the architectural design of its overpasses; at the time of its construction, each bridge was decorated in a unique fashion so that no two bridges on the parkway looked alike. However, newer overpasses used by intersecting expressways did not maintain this tradition, and as a result the highway is now spanned by several ordinary modern bridges constructed using undecorated concrete on steel I-beams.

Easton Turnpike bridge over the Merritt in Fairfield.

The Parkway has two lanes in each direction. Due to its age, it was originally constructed without the merge-lanes, long on-ramps, and long off-ramps that are found on modern limited-access highways. Some entrances have perilously short and/or sharp ramps; some entrances even have stop signs, with no merge lane whatsoever; this leads to some dangerous entrances onto the highway. Most have since been modernized, with the interchange of Route 111 in Trumbull featuring Connecticut's first single point urban interchange (SPUI). The speed limit on the parkway ranges from 45 to 55 mph (70 to 90 km/h). A section between Westport and Fairfield is a stretch, roughly five and a half miles long without a single exit, referred to by local traffic reports as "The No Exit Zone"[5] or "No Man's Land".[6]

Vehicles over 2.5 meters (eight feet) in height, weighing more than 3,650 kilograms (four tons), towing a trailer, or containing more than four wheels are not allowed on the parkway. (Under extenuating circumstances, however, ConnDOT may issue permits for oversize vehicles to use the Parkway.[1])

History[edit]

The Merritt Parkway is one of the oldest parkways in the United States. The portion from Greenwich to Norwalk was opened on June 29, 1938. The section from Norwalk to Trumbull was completed in November 1939 and in 1940 was finished to the Housatonic River in Stratford. The parkway was named for U.S. Congressman Schuyler Merritt, who was instrumental in enacting legislation allowing the parkway to be built. The Merritt Parkway is the first leg of what would later become the modern Route 15. Built between 1934 and 1940, the Merritt runs for 37 miles (60 km) from the New York state line in Greenwich to the Housatonic River in Stratford. It was conceived as a way to alleviate congestion on the Boston Post Road (U.S. Route 1) in Fairfield County. Six rest areas/service plazas featuring parking lots, Mobil gas stations, and convenience stores were also built so that drivers would not have to exit to refuel. These are located at either side of the parkway in Fairfield (exit 46), New Canaan (near exit 37) and Greenwich (CT-NY state line). Since 2011, most of the service plazas along both the Merritt and the Wilbur Cross have been renovated to include more modern gas pumps, convenience stores, and the addition of a Dunkin' Donuts at each location; all but one of the renovated plazas also include a Subway store. The New Canaan plazas are the last to go under renovation, and have been closed as of February 2014 for construction.

Tree canopy over the Merritt, and grassy median

After the parkway fully opened in 1940, it was not uncommon for travelers to stop and picnic along the side of the road.[7] The Merritt Parkway Advisory Commission (later the Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee) decided upon banning horses and buggies, bicycles, pedestrians, billboards, and U-turns while a system of horse trails along the parkway were developed but were later abandoned.[8]

To ease objections from county residents who feared an influx of New Yorkers on their roads, in their towns, on their beaches and through their forests, highway planners called on engineers, landscape architects and architects to create a safe and aesthetically pleasing limited access highway – one with exit and entrance ramps, but no intersections – that would not spoil the countryside.

The bridges played a prominent role in the design. Architect George L. Dunkelberger designed them all. They reflected the popularity of the Art Deco style, with touches of neo-classical and modern design.[9][10][11] Some of these bridges were constructed by the Works Progress Administration.

Toll booth 1955

Tolls were collected on the parkway at one toll plaza in Greenwich from June 21, 1939, until June 27, 1988. Two additional tolls were also located on the Wilbur Cross Parkway, in Milford and Wallingford. One of the parkway's former toll plazas is now preserved in Stratford's Boothe Memorial Park near Exit 53, complete with still-flashing lights over each toll lane.

In April 2001, a complete reissuance of the parkway's signs was carried out creating a uniform white-on-green and sawtooth border.

Safety of the parkway[edit]

One of the Merritt’s aesthetic features is also a potential danger to its drivers. Trees that line either side of the parkway, and often in the center median, grow branches that cover the roadway, and occasionally fall during severe weather, or with natural aging. Stretches of the parkway also lack guardrails on the right shoulders, creating a risk of tree impact accidents if cars veer off the pavement.

In 2007, after complaints were voiced about the danger of the trees along the parkway, state officials announced they would trim and eliminate some of them more aggressively. A large, seemingly healthy tree fell on a car near Exit 42 in Westport in June 2007, killing a couple from Pelham, New York. On June 23, 2011, a driver was killed in Stamford when a tree fell onto his car.[12]

A state study of fatalities on Connecticut highways showed that from 1985 to 1992, about ten people died every three years in tree-related accidents, although no other state roadway averaged more than one in three years.

The state Department of Transportation commonly sends out work crews twice a year to drive along both sides of the parkway at 5 mph (8 km/h) in search of decrepit trees. Trees that had been scheduled to be cut down in five or ten years would be removed sooner. Some more trees also would be removed, as the shoulder of the parkway is being widened to eight feet in order to give drivers room to pull over.[13]

Following the 2007 and 2011 incidents, the state became more aggressive in closing the parkway in times of severe weather. The parkway was closed during Tropical Storm Irene[14] and the Halloween nor'easter in 2011, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. With each of those storms, many trees and limbs fell across the parkway. After Sandy, the state began a large effort to remove unhealthy trees, and in the process created much wider clearances between the roadside and forest.[12]

The parkway also has three sharp curves where speed limits are reduced to 45 miles per hour, two in Greenwich and one in Fairfield.

The state has a Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee that meets quarterly.[13]

Welcome sign in Greenwich

The Merritt Parkway in popular culture[edit]

  • Jennifer Jones was returned home by the State Police who found her walking on the Merritt Parkway after running out of gas in the 1956 film The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, starring Gregory Peck as Jones's husband.
  • Willem de Kooning painted a large oil canvas titled "Merritt Parkway" in 1959. It is owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts.
  • Richard Shindell wrote an instrumental piece entitled "Merritt Parkway, 2 AM." The song can be found on his album, Somewhere Near Paterson, which was released in 2000.
  • One of Denise Levertov's poems is about the parkway.
  • JD Salinger mentions the Parkway in his story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut".
  • Elaine Stritch mentions traveling the Merritt Parkway, doing 8 round trips in one week in the 1950s. Reason was, she was the understudy for Ethel Merman in "Call Me Madam", checking in with Merman before each performance and had to sing a 2nd act song in "Pal Joey", which was trying out for one week in New Haven at the time. The story is related in her one woman show "At Liberty".
  • The parkway is mentioned in the Titus Andronicus song "A More Perfect Union".
  • The Road Taken...The Merritt Parkway, a 2008 documentary film by Lisa Seidenberg[15]

Exit list[edit]

The entire route is in Fairfield County.

Location Mile km Exit Destinations Notes
Greenwich 0.00 0.00 Hutchinson River Parkway south – New York City Continuation into New York
0.09 0.14 27 NY 120A (King Street) – Armonk
3.59 5.78 28 Round Hill Road – Greenwich To Greenwich business district
4.70 7.56 29 Lake Avenue – Greenwich
5.60 9.01 31 North Street – Greenwich To Greenwich business district
Stamford 8.90 14.32 33 Den Road – Stamford
9.50 15.29 34 Route 104 – Stamford, Long Ridge To downtown Stamford and University of Connecticut (Stamford campus)
10.70 17.22 35 Route 137 – Stamford, High Ridge
New Canaan 13.20 21.24 36 Route 106 – New Canaan, Springdale
14.10 22.69 37 Route 124 – New Canaan, Darien
Norwalk 15.90 25.59 38 Route 123 – New Canaan, Norwalk access to Norwalk Community College
17.30 27.84 39 US 7 – Norwalk, Wilton, Danbury Split into exits 39A (south) and 39B (north), Interchange redesign in proposal stage[16]
17.60 28.32 40 Main Avenue – Norwalk Unsigned SR 719
Westport 20.60 33.15 41 Route 33 – Westport, Wilton
21.60 34.76 42 Route 57 – Westport, Weston
Fairfield 27.00 43.45 44 Route 58 – Fairfield, Redding To Fairfield business district and Fairfield University
28.50 45.87 46 Route 59 – Fairfield, Easton General Electric Headquarters
Trumbull 29.20 46.99 47 Park Avenue – Trumbull access to the University of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University
30.60 49.25 48 Route 111 – Trumbull, Bridgeport Single Point Urban Interchange
32.20 51.82 49 Route 25 – Monroe, Newtown, Bridgeport Split into exits 49N (north) and 49S (south) northbound
32.80 52.79 50 Route 127 – Trumbull, Bridgeport Southbound exit and northbound entrance
33.70 54.23 51 Route 108 – Trumbull, Stratford Northbound exit and southbound entrance
34.10 54.88 52 Route 8 – Shelton, Derby, Bridgeport Split into exits 52N (north) and 52S (south)
Stratford 36.90 59.38 53 Route 110 – Stratford, Shelton
Housatonic River 37.00 59.55 Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Bridge
37.50 60.35 Route 15 north (Wilbur Cross Parkway) Continuation into New Haven County
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi

Images[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "What is allowed to travel on the Merritt Parkway?". Connecticut Department of Transportation. Retrieved August 24, 2007. 
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  3. ^ "Connecticut – Fairfield County Historic Places". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved August 24, 2007. 
  4. ^ "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places". National Trust for Historic Preservation. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Traffic: A Guide to the Pure Chaos of the Merritt Parkway". DimeBrothers. Retrieved February 18, 2008. 
  6. ^ Radde, Bruce (1993). The Merritt Parkway. Yale University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-300-05379-7. Retrieved February 18, 2008. 
  7. ^ Society, Trumbull Historical (February 19, 2004). "Trumbull". ISBN 978-0-7385-3458-9. 
  8. ^ Radde, Bruce. The Merritt Parkway. Yale University Press, 1993 p83. ISBN 0-300-05379-7
  9. ^ "Local Legacies — The Merritt Parkway". The Library of Congress. 
  10. ^ Charles R. Roth. "The Merritt Parkway — The Queen of All Parkways". Trumbull, Connecticut Historical Society. Retrieved October 4, 2007. 
  11. ^ "A Scenic Roadway that Bridges many Divides". The Hartford Courant. Retrieved January 24, 2007. 
  12. ^ a b Cassidy, Martin B. (15 December 2012). "State eliminates storm-weakened Merritt trees". Danbury News-Times. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Ginocchio, Mark, "Merritt trees to face the ax," news article in The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut, July 27, 2007, Norwalk edition, pp. 1, A4
  14. ^ "Irene knocks out power, downs trees on approach". WTNH-TV. August 28, 2011. Archived from the original on September 1, 2011. Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  15. ^ "The Road Taken…The Merritt Parkway". Westport Historical Society. October 6, 2008. 
  16. ^ Koch, Robert (February 25, 2009). "DOT offers revised Route 7/Merritt interchange plan". The Hour (Norwalk). Retrieved July 29, 2011. 

External links[edit]