Map of Fairfield County in southwestern Connecticut with Merritt Parkway highlighted in red
|Length:||37.27 mi (59.98 km)|
|Existed:||1938 – present|
|Restrictions:||No commercial vehicles, trailers, towed vehicles, buses, or hearses|
|South end:||Hutchinson River Parkway in Rye Brook, NY|
|North end:||Route 15 (Wilbur Cross Parkway) in Milford, CT|
|Architect||Connecticut Highway Department; et al.|
|Architectural style||Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Modern Movement|
|NRHP Reference #||91000410|
|Added to NRHP||April 17, 1991|
The Merritt Parkway (also known locally as "The Merritt") is a historic limited-access parkway in Fairfield County, Connecticut, the first of its kind. Designed for Connecticut's Gold Coast, 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. 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. Facing bitter opposition, the project took six years to build in three different sections, with the Connecticut Department of Transportation constantly requiring additional funding due to the area's high property value. The parkway was named for U.S. Congressman Schuyler Merritt. On May 19, 2010, the Merritt Parkway was named one of America's Most Endangered Historic Places.
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.
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" or "No Man's Land".
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.)
The Merritt Parkway is the oldest scenic parkway 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, gas stations, and convenience stores were also built along the Merritt so that drivers would not have to exit to refuel. Pairs of plazas are located opposite each other on either side of the parkway in Fairfield (near exit 46), New Canaan (near exit 37), and Greenwich (just beyond the CT-NY state line). The northbound-side plaza in Greenwich also houses a Connecticut welcome center. The plazas were originally constructed during the Parkway's days as a tolled highway, but remained even after the tolls were removed in 1988, making the Parkway one of only a few toll-free highways with service plazas along its length. Between 2011 and 2015, all six of the service plazas (along with the four located further north along the Wilbur Cross Parkway) were completely renovated. The renovations preserved the original brick and stone facade of the buildings, but completely redesigned and modernized the interiors. The plazas now include more modern gas pumps, Alltown convenience stores, and a Dunkin' Donuts shop at each location; three of the Merritt's six plazas also include a Subway shop. Prior to the renovations, no fast-food service had previously been available at the plazas. The renovation project was completed during the summer of 2015, when the New Canaan plazas were reopened.
After the parkway fully opened in 1940, it was not uncommon for travelers to stop and picnic along the side of the road. 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 was developed but later abandoned.
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. Some of these bridges were constructed by the Works Progress Administration.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
The state has a Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee that meets quarterly.
The Merritt Parkway in popular culture
- Willem de Kooning oil-on-canvas painting Merritt Parkway (1959) is owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts.
- Lisa Seidenberg, a filmmaker from Westport, produced a documentary film, The Road Taken...The Merritt Parkway (2008).
- The Merritt Parkway is mentioned in J. D. Salinger's short story, "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," published in The New Yorker in 1948 and included in his 1953 book, Nine Stories.
The entire route is in Fairfield County.
|Greenwich||0.00||0.00||–||Hutchinson River Parkway south – New York City||Continuation into New York|
|0.09||0.145||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|
|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 – Waterbury, 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)- I-95 , New Haven , Hartford||Continuation into New Haven County|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi
- Schuyler Merritt
- Merritt Parkway Bridges
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Fairfield County, Connecticut
- "What is allowed to travel on the Merritt Parkway?". Connecticut Department of Transportation. Retrieved August 24, 2007.
- Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- "Connecticut – Fairfield County Historic Places". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved August 24, 2007.
- "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places". National Trust for Historic Preservation. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- Catherine Lynn; Christopher Wigren (February 22, 1991). "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Merritt Parkway" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-02-12. Photos
- "Traffic: A Guide to the Pure Chaos of the Merritt Parkway". DimeBrothers. Retrieved February 18, 2008.
- Radde, Bruce (1993). The Merritt Parkway. Yale University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-300-05379-7. Retrieved February 18, 2008.
- Society, Trumbull Historical (February 19, 2004). "Trumbull". ISBN 978-0-7385-3458-9.
- Radde, Bruce. The Merritt Parkway. Yale University Press, 1993 p83. ISBN 0-300-05379-7
- "Local Legacies — The Merritt Parkway". The Library of Congress.
- Charles R. Roth. "The Merritt Parkway — The Queen of All Parkways". Trumbull, Connecticut Historical Society. Retrieved October 4, 2007.
- "A Scenic Roadway that Bridges many Divides". The Hartford Courant. Retrieved January 24, 2007.
- Cassidy, Martin B. (15 December 2012). "State eliminates storm-weakened Merritt trees". Danbury News-Times. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
- Ginocchio, Mark, "Merritt trees to face the ax," news article in The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut, July 27, 2007, Norwalk edition, pp. 1, A4
- "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.
- Willem de Kooning, Merritt Parkway, 1959, AMICA (Art Museum Images from Cartography Associates) Library.
- Content is a Glimpse: March 1960: Interview with David Sylvester, recorded March 1960, Willem de Kooning Foundation.
- The Road Taken…The Merritt Parkway, Westport Historical Society (October 6, 2008).
- Koch, Robert (February 25, 2009). "DOT offers revised Route 7/Merritt interchange plan". The Hour (Norwalk). Retrieved July 29, 2011.
- Radde, Bruce (1993). The Merritt Parkway. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06877-8.
- Larned, Larry (1998). Traveling the Merritt Parkway. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia. ISBN 0-7524-0946-8.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Merritt Parkway.|