M E R R I T T P
R K W A Y
Now, in 2014...State of Connecticut
7 Years After Couple Was Killed By Falling Tree On Parkway, Family Finally Sues State
Case Was Delayed As Plaintiffs First Had To Win Claims Commissioner's OK To Bring Action Against State
Jon Lender, Government Watch
2:29 PM EDT, May 17, 2014
A 70-foot tree fell on a car driving down the Merritt Parkway in
Westport in 2007, killing a husband and wife before the eyes of their 7-
and 9-year old sons, who were seated behind them.
Now after a seven-year delay caused largely by the state's "sovereign
immunity" system for winnowing out legal claims against it relatives
of physician Joseph J. Stavola and attorney Jeanne C. Serocke-Stavola
have finally filed a lawsuit against the state in Hartford Superior
Court for potentially millions of dollars in damages.
The March 28 lawsuit provides another example of the complicated system
that people have to navigate if they want to sue the state for financial
damages. Plaintiffs must first request that the Connecticut claims
commissioner waive the "sovereign immunity" that is granted by law to
the state government to shield it against being sued.
Many claimants never get bring their cases to Superior Court. In a
much-publicized example, state Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr.
denied permission last year for Charla Nash
to sue the state over injuries from a brutal 2009 chimpanzee attack
and, in recent weeks, the state legislature denied Nash's appeal from
However, Vance did grant permission for the family of the Merritt
Parkway victims to sue the state. On April 1, 2013, he ruled that the
facts of the case met the legal standard "that the State of Connecticut
could be liable if it were a private person."
Glastonbury lawyer David G. Hill could not be reached for comment late
last week on why it took nearly a year to initiate the suit.
If the lawsuit runs its course in court that is, if it isn't settled
or dismissed early, and goes to trial the seven years that have
elapsed since the 2007 tragedy could conceivably stretch close to a
Hill's court papers didn't specify the amount of damages being sought,
and used only a legally required minimum figure of $15,000 "or more."
However, documents presented at a 2012 hearing before the claims
commissioner listed amounts of:
$6 million on behalf of the state of Joseph Stavola, who was 46 when he died.
$5 million on behalf of the estate of his wife, who was 44.
$2 million each on behalf of sons James and William Stavola, who now are in their teens.
Whether those are still the amounts being claimed is unknown.
Plaintiffs in the suit are James Horan, executor of the estates of the
couple from Pelham Manor, N.Y., and John Stavola of Glastonbury,
Joseph's brother and guardian of James and William. Defendants are
listed as the State of Connecticut and its commissioner of
transportation, James P. Redeker.
"James and William Stavola witnessed their parents' tragic death from
the back seat and sustained significant physical and emotional injuries
as a result of having done so," the lawsuit says.
"Defendants had a duty to use reasonable care to keep its property in a
condition that did not endanger motorists like the Stavola family," it
continues. "As part of that duty, [they] also had a duty to inspect
and/or ensure that the trees on its property were maintained in a
reasonably safe condition."
The pine tree that fell was not safe, but was in "defective condition" because of decay in its trunk, the suit says.
The office of the Attorney General George Jepsen will represent the
state in court, as it did in the three-day hearing at the office of the
claims commissioner in 2012.
"It's our responsibility to defend the state," said Deputy Attorney
General Perry Zinn Rowthorn, although "our sympathies go out to the
family for this awful tragedy."
Tree Hit Windshield
In many ways, the court action is likely to replay arguments made in
documents submitted to the claims commissioner. According to that file,
the Stavola family was driving south on the parkway about 9:15 p.m. on
June 9, 2007, in a Volvo XC90 SUV when the tree toppled from about 35
feet off the roadway and 15 feet up an embankment and smashed through
"As upsetting as this incident is, its impact is magnified by the
realization that it could and should have been avoided, if the
Department of Transportation had simply done its job," Hill wrote to the
claims commissioner. "It didn't and two people are dead."
The attorney general's office denies that DOT officials were negligent. A
state landscape designer performs slow-speed, visual drive-by
inspections twice a year along the tree-lined highway that is famous for
its park-like scenery. Those summer and winter drive-bys "are a
reasonable and recognized method of inspecting roadside trees,"
Assistant Attorney General Michael R. Bullers wrote response to the
Bullers has filed an appearance in Superior Court to defend against the newly-filed lawsuit.
The case that was presented before the claims commissioner was filled
with intriguing details of tree science. Experts for both sides argued
over whether deterioration of the base of the tree trunk, which led to
the tree's toppling, was visible and should have been detected by DOT
Hill had a full-scale model of the tree's base, showing a large scar,
brought to Vance's state office as an exhibit in the hearing. He said in
a legal filing to Vance that the DOT's landscape designer admitted in a
deposition that if he'd known the tree had a scar at its base
38-by-26 inches "he would have inspected the tree closer."
"He further admitted that if any of the DOT workers had seen that scar,
they would and should have notified him immediately," Hill wrote. Hill
noted that an expert witness in forestry concluded that the scar had
existed for five or 10 years since a stem broke away from the trunk --
and that it was "readily visible" from the road. The tree "had a
significant lean" toward the road, Hill added.
Bullers, however, argued at the time that the state's expert witness
didn't agree that the scar had existed that long. But, even assuming it
had been there all that time, he said the maximum number of drive-by
inspections over that period would have been 20, with 10 of them done
when "the foliage is in full bloom, making visibility difficult."
No driver can travel the Merritt Parkway these days with noticing
extensive tree cutting, which has been happening for a couple of years.
Trees within 30 feet of the pavement are gradually being removed; a DOT
spokesman, Kevin Nursick, said the standard for the scenic highway had
been 12 feet from the pavement.
Asked if the tree work was in response to the 2007 tragedy, Nursick said
no. He said the major storms of 2011 and 2012 with extended power
outages and blocked roads caused by fallen trees opened everyone's
eyes" to the fact that trees near highways must be cut back.
Tree-cutting isn't just happening on the Merritt Parkway, but on major
highways all over the state, he said.
"To help inoculate the state from storm impacts," Nursick said, the DOT
has doubled its number of tree crew members to 50, and has increased the
old $500,000-a-year tree-maintenance budget to $1 million. "We were
understaffed and under-funded for years."
"We are focusing on a 30-foot 'clear zone," Nursick said. On any highway
with a speed limit from 55 to 65 mph., he said the goal is to have a
30-foot margin between the edge of the pavement and any trees. That way,
he said, "vehicles that errantly leave the roadway can 'dust off'
speed, come to a stop, or recover without striking an immovable object"
a tree, that is.
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant
Funding for Merritt bridge work
Ken Dixon, CT POST
Updated 8:10 p.m., Monday, December 10, 2012
HARTFORD -- The State Bond Commission on Monday approved $14.6
million for road resurfacing, safety improvements and the
rehabilitation of bridges along the Merritt Parkway in Stamford and New
The work, which will employ more than 200 construction workers, will
include $5 million for rebuilding the Metro-North commuter rail bridge
over the parkway in New Canaan. The resurfacing, safety and other
bridge improvements are budgeted for $9.6 million. The work is to begin
in the spring of 2013.
SUBWAY and DUNKIN'
DONUTS signs historic, we ask? Will parking area increase?
Response positive on Merritt
Lisa Chamoff, Staff Writer
Updated 08:30 p.m., Friday, December 16, 2011
After working with the firm hired by the state to redesign 23
Connecticut highway service plazas, the chairman of the Merritt Parkway
Conservancy said he is happy with the plans for Greenwich.
Peter Malkin, who heads the conservation group, spoke at a public
information meeting held by the state Department of Transportation at
Town Hall Thursday night. The group has been providing input to
Milford-based Project Service LLC, which is redesigning the plazas for
northbound Exit 27 and southbound exit 28 on the Merritt to add new
fuel pumps that are set farther back from the highway and expand the
rest area's main building to include Subway and Dunkin' Donuts, as well
as space for a visitors' center. The changes are part of a project to
renovate nearly two dozen Connecticut highway service plazas.
"I think they have been cooperative to do what we think is necessary
for the neighbors and the parkway," Malkin told the small group
gathered in the Town Hall Meeting Room for the forum. "I think the
final result is going to be much better than it could have been and
much better than it is."
Malkin and Paul Andino, president of Project Service, do disagree over
whether signs listing the price of gas at the pumps should be displayed
"I'm more than a little bit worried about the functional system without
any identity of pricing," Andino said, but added he was "willing to
talk about it."
Andino said the conservancy had given a lot of input to the project,
which doesn't have a start date. The canopies over the gas pumps at
each rest area have been scaled back and the historic building will
remain, with some upgrades and an addition in the rear.
"This highway has a lot of history attached to it," Andino said. "It's
certainly a gem in Greenwich."
Opened in June 1938 as a scenic bypass for the increasingly congested
Boston Post Road (Route 1), the Merritt Parkway is considered a
National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration.
Margaret Freiberg, who represents District 7/North Center on the
Representative Town Meeting, asked whether there would be large
billboards for the two restaurants at the rest area. Andino said there
would be minimal signage on the building, with signs a half-mile before
the rest area to alert drivers. A rest area on Route 15 in North Haven,
which Andino encouraged Greenwich residents to visit to get a sense of
what the one in Greenwich will look like, has minimal signage.
"On the property, we're going to be as conservative as possible to
maintain the integrity of the building," Andino said.
The facilities are being designed to get people off and on the parkway
as quickly as possible, Andino said, and to avoid the backup of cars.
Greenwich resident Gary Silberberg had a concern about the placement of
the gas pumps, and thought drivers would have to look at an awkward
angle to check for cars coming off the highway into the rest area.
Otherwise, he said he was happy with the plans.
"I would say, seeing it for the first time, you've addressed a lot of
problems," Silberberg said. "It looks very nice and I'm happy with what
Freiberg said that when she read about the plan, she had concerns about
"I think the Merritt Parkway was designed to be a work of art the way
Central Park is a work of art," Freiberg said. "When I heard Subway and
Dunkin' Donuts, I said, `Are these people rolling over in their
After attending Thursday night's meeting, Freiberg said her concerns
were mostly allayed.
"I must say I feel better now than when I first read about it,"
Freiberg said. "The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, as they
MERRITT PARKWAY TRAIL FEASIBILITY AS
OF MAY 2012
Merritt Parkway trail proposal faces
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
May 21, 2012
Trumbull -- Will Britnell, principal engineer with the Connecticut
Department of Transportation, typically starts meetings on the subject
of building a trail along the Merritt Parkway with a quote from
Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death
your right to say it."
That pretty much says it all. The idea of building a trail along the
Merritt is opinion-generating. Big time.
"Don't do it," said Jessie Bennett, an attorney who has come to a
meeting about the project -- begun as usual with the Voltaire quote --
in Trumbull with her husband Ron Canuel and a list of 25 concerns
related to the fact that the Canuel-Bennett home abuts the Merritt
right where the trail would likely go. "I think it's going to be an
But at this sixth in a series of eight meetings in communities that
border or intersect the Merritt, there is as usual, disagreement.
"I support the project. I think it's a great opportunity to provide
some alternative transportation means and recreational value," said
Roger Krahn, who also owns a home adjacent to the Merritt, though on
the other side. "The Merritt Parkway is a great resource and this would
just enhance it."
That's generally how it goes, Britnell said. "The thought of coming
through and building a trail through that corridor obviously scares a
lot of people."
On the other hand, he said, "This goes back 15, 20 years. People have
been coming to us and asking us to build a trail."
Actually 20 years, when Linda Hoza started the Merritt Parkway Trail
Alliance just as the notion of an East Coast Greenway -- a trail from
Florida to Maine -- was being hatched to include the Merritt in its
Connecticut portion. (Some point out that when the Merritt was built
beginning in 1934, there were plans for horse trails around it.) Hoza
got no traction from the DOT.
"We tried to get meetings with the commissioner over the years," she
said from Florida, where she now lives. "It would come down to ... 'How
many ways can we say no?'"
Late in the Rell administration the DOT position softened, especially
once it became clear that the idea of widening the Merritt and thereby
eliminating trail space, would not happen. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, as
mayor of Stamford, had been interested in the trail idea, so it was not
surprising when DOT Commissioner James Redeker embraced the idea
publicly late last year.
That's an emphasis on idea. There is no plan -- something Britnell has
explained repeatedly with varying success during meetings. About the
only thing the DOT more or less knows is that the trail would be in the
parkway's northbound side right of way. That's because the road is
situated off to the other side of that right of way, leaving the
northbound side with far more space. It would run the full 37.5 miles
from the New York border to the Sikorsky Bridge in Stratford. And it
would be multi-use.
What's under way right now is phase one of an 18-month, $1.3 million
($1.1 million from a National Scenic Byways grant and $200,000 from the
state) feasibility study. Phase one is these listening sessions.
Phase two will be an actual concept based on suggestions and concerns
voiced by those attending the initial sessions. Phase three would be
public meetings on the trail concept, possibly as soon as this fall and
winter. If, at the end, it's determined that a trail is worth building,
then we're talking an untold number of years and millions of dollars
"They operate at non-warp speed," said Gordon Joseloff, first selectman
of Westport, of the DOT. He did not attend the meeting in his town but
has concerns about jurisdiction for the trail where it crosses roads
that are under the auspices of town police, potential cost to the town
and the environmental impact.
"It's an interesting idea," he said. "Trails of this kind next to a
highway have worked elsewhere. I think we'd be negligent not to explore
Responses pro and con
While Britnell said the meetings have largely produced evenhanded
responses pro and con, and he sees no reason why the process won't
continue to phase two, in truth the list of concerns is long. The first
is privacy for homeowners whose properties would border the trail. With
that come issues like noise, trash, rest rooms, emergency access,
vandalism, trespassing, liability, crime, parking and fencing.
Another major concern is cost for both building and maintaining a
trail. Britnell readily admits these are not bills either the state or
any of the communities along the Merritt have any interest in footing.
"We're open to ideas," he said, noting that public-private partnerships
seem likely along with volunteer efforts -- even the Boy Scouts -- to
do the actual trail maintenance. "That's one of the bigger nuts to
"The state is pretty well wiped out in term of resources to maintain
what we have let alone 37 miles of new trail. We've talked to all the
towns. Frankly nobody has funds to maintain something like this."
That point was among many hammered home at the Greenwich meeting in
March, reportedly the most contentious, with widespread opposition to a
trail, especially among those who live adjacent to the parkway. That
included former state Sen. William Nickerson.
"This is DOT money which would be much better spent dealing with real
DOT pressing needs -- MetroNorth parking," he said, zeroing in on one
of a litany of criticisms. "That would be the environmentally friendly
He and many others, including the DOT, noted a third major concern --
how to handle the intersection of the trail with local roads. Britnell
said that with the possible exception of a few major roads for which
tunnels or small bridges may be constructed, trail users would have to
cross several dozen local roads and in some cases detour onto them.
That prospect has elicited howls from any number of people concerned
about safety for trail users and motor vehicles.
Among other issues: environmental concerns around tree removal,
landscape alterations, wildlife and wetlands impacts. People brought up
construction noise, damage to the road's remaining 66 unique
Depression-era bridges. They questioned whether the trail would really
be used for transportation and whether DOT's idea of linking it to
public attractions like malls, museums and schools and tying it into
economic development was realistic.
While DOT says at this point it has no position on the project, it's
worth noting their presentation included a slide of an overweight child
watching television accompanied by soda and two bags of chips.
And there were concerns that trail users would distract drivers on the
parkway, which the DOT said can exceed 80,000 a day in certain spots,
causing more slowdowns and even accidents.
"I think the biggest issue, if I was a resident, is privacy," said
Frank Smeriglio, Trumbull's town engineer, after the meeting. "The
biggest issue if I was a state engineer is distraction on the Merritt
Parkway. And the biggest issue for a town engineer is the crossings.
"I think having a trail would be a great thing, and I think it's just
maneuvering through the critical parts."
Jill Smyth, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy,
founded in 2002 to revitalize the Merritt corridor, said her
organization has many questions and concerns, especially about the
character of the parkway, which is a national landmark. But for the
moment, the conservancy is not supporting or opposing the project until
there's more information.
"At this point we really need to study the design of the trail," she
For Josh Lecar, who took up the trail alliance mantle from Linda Hoza,
and has a long roster of supporting organizations, the issue may be
less the particulars and more the momentum.
"I'm so excited they're committed to this project to the extent they
are," he said. "I think there's a very plausible way forward. But
people have to have a lot of patience and a lot of stick-to-it-ive-ness
once it's off the front burner to keep it going."
The fact that it's on any burner, for Hoza, elicited only one word:
"That all of those years weren't wasted years -- that's very
encouraging," she said. "I want to come bike it and not do it with a
Hearings set on Merritt bike/hike
Martin Cassidy, Westport NEWS
Published 11:17 a.m., Tuesday, March 13, 2012
State engineers are seeking the public's feedback on the Merritt
Parkway bike and pedestrian trail to help plot a potential path for the
design of the 37.3-mile path later this year.
"During the first phase we're actually trying to obtain information
from local residents and business owners about what types of access
they'd like to see," said Will Britnell, principal engineer for the
Department of Transportation's state highway design.
The state DOT will hold a series of public workshops in the eight
municipalities along the route to gather input for a $1.4 million study
of the envisioned path, which has been discussed by cycling enthusiasts
for nearly 20 years.
One of the workshops is planned in Fairfield, at 6 p.m. April 10 in
Osborn Hill School.
After gathering feedback from residents and officials from Greenwich to
Stratford, engineers this summer will attempt to plan a path for the
trail and assess logistical challenges involved with building it,
Franklin Bloomer, president of Greenwich Safe Cycling, and Josh Lecar,
program coordinator for the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance, said a
cultural shift in which residents seek better pedestrian and bicycle
access explains the DOT's willingness to pursue the study. "I feel like
the DOT, as an internal policy, has accepted the idea that this is
something that should happen," Bloomer said.
"There has always been a concern about it from the standpoint of
feasibility but you need to do this work to understand the true
feasibility of overcoming the obstacles," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick
said. "We're fairly optimistic here of seeing a positive result."
Lecar, the former transportation planner for the city of Stamford, said
it is likely the state designers would reduce the financial and
environmental impact of the work by routing users of the trail onto
major roads in areas where uneven terrain or water pose challenges.
"I expect that there will be some sections that will be able to
accommodate bikes, pedestrians, and in some cases, maybe equestrian
traffic," Lecar said. "Other sections will be limited because of the
topography where the streets will become part of the trail."
The DOT is conducting the study with a $1.096 million grant from the
National Scenic Byway Program, with the state putting up $274,000 for
David Kooris, vice president of the Stamford-based Regional Plan
Association, said that in concert with other trail projects, the
Merritt Parkway trail and work to establish bicycle routes closer to
the shoreline could help establish a nearly comprehensive and
economically important network for non-motorized travel.
The Regional Plan Association hired a consultant in the early 1990s to
conduct the Merritt Parkway Trail Feasibility Study, which argued for
creating the trail, which could also become part of the East Coast
Greenway, a 2,750-mile network of trails from Florida to Maine.
"It's important to not think about the trail in isolation because when
you couple it with projects in Stamford and the Norwalk River Valley
trail it becomes part of a system that links suburbs and suburban
neighborhoods with downtowns," Kooris said. "It would be incredibly
cool to have this phenomenal greenway network that would add a ton of
value to our residential neighborhoods."
MERRITT TRAIL WORKSHOPS
- Stamford: March 22, Stamford Government Center, 5:30 p.m.
- Greenwich: March 26, Greenwich Town Hall, 6 p.m.
- New Canaan: April 3, Outback Teen Center, 6 p.m.
- Fairfield: April 10, Osborn Hill School, 6 p.m.
starts study of trail along
Staff and wire reports
Published 02:11 p.m., Friday, November 25, 2011
The state Department of Transportation is beginning to study whether a
long-discussed multi-use trail along the Merritt Parkway, stretching
from Greenwich to Stratford, is feasible.
The proposed trail would be located within the undeveloped highway
right-of-way and would use the wooded buffer that now exists between
the road and abutting properties. In the planning stages for about two
decades, the trail would span more than 37 miles from the New York
state line to the Sikorsky Bridge in Stratford and serve as a bicycle
and pedestrian path along the historically designated highway.
DOT officials said this week that an extensive public outreach campaign
will be undertaken in each of the eight communities along the parkway.
They plan to hold a series of public meetings for the study, which is
being paid with a $1.096 million grant from the National Scenic Byways
Program and $274,000 in state funds.
The study's duration will be impacted by feedback received from
stakeholders along the route, but is expected to take a couple of
years, DOT spokesman Judd Everhart has said.
The DOT says it also plans to document environmentally sensitive areas
and come up with options for avoiding them, possibly diverting the
trail onto local loads in certain locations.
The study will also consider including information on the parkway's
historically significant features at spots along the route to develop
it as a tourist destination.
Supporters of multi-use paths in Connecticut have since the mid-'90s
touted the trail concept as a link in the East Coast Greenway, a
2,750-mile network of trails from Florida to Maine.
Cycling and pedestrian advocates have said that the study shows that
state leaders are finally serious about developing amenities for
non-motorized travel. Past efforts to get the DOT to vet the concept
were given less consideration because the engineering challenges of
routing the path past major intersecting roads and waterways such as
the Saugatuck and Mianus rivers were considered too extensive based on
the perceived demand.
Now, heavy automobile traffic and a younger generation of professionals
interested in bicycling to work has given greater impetus to efforts to
Preservationists who are protective of the parkway's bucolic
atmosphere, particularly its forested medians, will likely keep a close
eye on the DOT study.
deemed endangered by National Trust
Martin B. Cassidy, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published: 09:49 p.m., Wednesday, May 19, 2010
WESTPORT -- Careful restoration of the Merritt Parkway's park-like
surroundings and architecturally diverse bridges should be focused to
ensure the 70-year-old wooded thoroughfare's scenic trademarks will
survive the challenges of increased traffic and development, David
Brown, executive vice president for the National Trust for Historic
Preservation said Wednesday.
At a ceremony at the Merritt's North Avenue overpass, Brown announced
to the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, state legislators and other
officials that the rustic aura of the 37.5-mile road had been included
on the trust's 2010 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic
The conservancy, a parkway preservation group, nominated it for the
list, said President Peter Malkin, a Greenwich resident.
The list released Wednesday also includes Hinchcliffe Stadium, a Negro
League baseball stadium in Paterson, N.J., a Civil War battlefield in
Virginia, and the Chamorro people's ancient settlement in the U.S.
territory of Guam.
"It can be inappropriate development, or the ravages of time and
weather, as we can see here," Brown said pointing out sections of
crumbling and eroded concrete facing on the North Avenue bridge.
"Connecticut's Merritt Parkway is a model of progressive architecture
and early 20th century urban land use reform."
Necessary improvements to the parkway's historic bridges and overpasses
should include the original Art Deco and French Renaissance sculptural
elements and other ornamentation that give them a unique character,
Brown said. The parkway's traditional greenery should also be well
maintained, he said.
In its designation, the trust noted the Merritt runs through the
state's most densely populated area, which has led to improvement
projects that jeopardize the parkway's character.
"We urge the Department of Transportation to work to make the safety
improvements and design choices that respect the important character of
this place," Brown said.
State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie said the
designation was a reminder of the challenge of maintaining the road's
traditional appearance motorists value, while incorporating modern
safety revamps that are necessary.
"I think the DOT is being more receptive and responsive to adopting and
maintaining context-sensitive design along the highway," Marie said.
"We know the Merritt Parkway needs a lot of tender loving care and we
plan to keep it that way."
Running from Exit 27 at the New York state line to Exit 53 at the
Stratford-Milford town line, the limited-access parkway features 68
bridges, many still bearing unique concrete adornments designed by
George Dunkelberger and erected when it opened in 1938, linking the
Hutchinson River Parkway to Connecticut.
The Merritt Parkway now carries an average of 55,000 cars between
Greenwich and Stamford each day, 65,700 between Stamford and New Canaan
and 79,000 cars on the Stratford-Milford section.
In 1994, the DOT completed a landscaping master plan to serve as a
future guideline to address maintaining a population of native trees,
removing vines and other invasive species, along with mowing and other
Malkin said he hoped the increased recognition would attract
preservation-minded residents to the conservancy. The group is
especially concerned about efforts to remove healthy trees, or expand
the roadway's safety capacity in ways that will affect bridges or
"The National Trust investigated and reaffirmed the historic importance
of the Merritt Parkway," Malkin said. "It's an important recognition
because it is a tremendous asset to the state and one that is always
facing some type of challenge."
Last October, the parkway was also selected by the World Monument Fund,
a Manhattan nonprofit preservation group, as a significantly endangered
site because of threats to the wooded canopy that buffers the highway
and the aging, one-of-a-kind bridges.
The DOT is now working on a $66.5 million federal stimulus project to
improve parkway safety between Fairfield and Trumbull, which includes
replacing and rehabilitating 13 bridges on that 9-mile section and
The project also includes the planned removal of 300 trees along a
4-mile stretch, and an extensive replanting of maple, oak and other
native trees and plants after construction is completed.
"It is not one of the more attractive parts of the Merritt Parkway at
this moment, but we're confident that people are going to be pleased
when the landscaping phase begins," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.
The planned bridge overhauls will restore and repair a great majority
of their original historic ornamentation, with minimal changes, he said.
"The reproduction of those bridges is being done with an exacting eye
toward maintaining the historical accuracy of those structures,"
Geoffrey Middeleer, a Wilton-based landscape architect who consults
with the conservancy about DOT-proposed plans, said the state has made
progress toward preserving the parkway's wooded canopy by focusing on
removing invasive species and considering use of plants that will make
invasives less likely to return.
"I think the designation is important because anything that can be done
to draw attention to preservation on the Merritt Parkway is good news,"
Middeleer said of the National Trust list. "We want to maintain the
tree and plant species that are natural and contribute to the intended
atmosphere of the road."
Preserving the Merritt's path to
By TINA SUSMAN Los Angeles Times
Published 11/15/2009 12:00 AM
Updated 11/15/2009 01:52 AM
The narrow lanes weave through the forest, past timber guardrails,
low-slung bridges with stone facades and trees whose crimson leaves
glisten in the fall sun.
But take a closer look. Those log guardrails hide steel reinforcements.
And some of the charming bridges have been swapped out for modern,
sharp-edged models. On second thought, don't take a closer look; you
might find yourself wrapped around one of those magnificent trees.
The Merritt Parkway, known to many Americans as a speed trap for David
Letterman, has coursed for 69 years through southwestern Connecticut,
linking what are now some of its toniest suburbs to New York. But after
being added in October to the World Monument Fund's list of most
endangered sites, the four-lane, 37.5-mile road is enjoying a newfound
status - alongside such treasures as the tombs of Egypt, France's
chateaux and Machu Picchu in Peru.
That should come as no surprise, say lovers of the Merritt and other
U.S. parkways, such as the Arroyo Seco Parkway north of downtown Los
Angeles; the George Washington Memorial Parkway that loops through
Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.; and the Beartooth Highway in
Montana and Wyoming.
"They are as intentionally designed as the gardens of Versailles. They
just happen to be roadways," said Amy Freitag of the World Monuments
Fund, which sorted through 195 nominations before settling on 93 sites
for its 2010 list.
By being on the list, the Merritt probably will receive even more
attention from preservationists, which could translate to more funding
to protect it. Recognition of the Merritt's aesthetic qualities also
could help preservationists who are at odds with federal highway
officials seeking to upgrade other parkways.
"It gives us a chance to remind people that these parkways exist all
across the country. They really are a special, special thing that
America produced in the 20th century," Freitag said of the roadways,
which were designed for leisurely motoring in an era when cars, and
life, moved at a far slower pace.
In addition to dozens of Art Deco bridges, the Merritt is cherished for
the thick woods that grow along the roadside and the trees that dot its
median. Arching branches form a leafy canopy over sections of the road.
Deer nibble on grass along the narrow shoulders.
"When I was a kid, we'd come down this beautiful, beautiful roadway.
You'd enter it and, all of a sudden, there would be flowers growing
alongside of the road and everyone in the car would be calmer," said
John B. Lindquist, 70, of Stratford. "Even my brother and I would fight
less in the back seat."
But rarely do the views of parkway preservationists mesh with those
demanding adherence to modern safety guidelines - be they in suburban
Connecticut or the wilds of the West, where the Beartooth Highway
travels. Where federal officials see higher guard walls as protection
for drivers skirting rivers, preservationists see them as blocking
views. Where federal officials see wider shoulders and lanes as
safeguards against hitting trees, preservationists see them as
destructive to the forest.
"Those trees might be a historic part of the roadway, but they are in
an area where, by today's standards, they should not be," said Gloria
Scott of the California Department of Transportation, which has
struggled to keep the historic character of the 8.2-mile Arroyo Seco
Parkway. In 2002, that stretch of California Highway 110 was designated
a National Scenic Byway to bolster preservationist efforts.
But parkways that were designed for recreational driving nowadays are
used by commuters living in the suburbs. They want to get to work or
home quickly - as Letterman, who has used his nightly monologue to joke
about his Merritt Parkway speeding tickets, can attest. Accidents
happen, sparking demands for engineering changes.
In the 1990s, a series of fatal head-on collisions prompted calls to
alter the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which meanders for 25
miles along the woodsy shoreline of the Potomac River. Federal highway
officials directed that barriers be installed where the median was less
than 8 feet wide. Dottie Marshall, the National Park Service's
superintendent for the memorial parkway, said that officials didn't
want glaring metal to disturb the scenery, so they opted for steel
beams prefabricated to look old and rusty - the highway equivalent of
"When that guard rail was installed, for about 30 to 45 days I spent
all day long on the phone taking calls from people complaining about
it: that we had destroyed the character (of the road) ... that people
should change their behavior and drive slower," Marshall said.
Nancy Savin, a member of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, said of
historic roadways that "to widen (a) highway and destroy it is not the
What is needed, she said, is increased use of public transportation.
When the parkway was built, it boasted 69 bridges - no two the same. At
least three have been replaced, and several with more modern designs
have been added. The Monuments Fund warned that more bridges could be
affected if lanes were widened, shoulders added or other changes made.
A nearly $67-million safety and rehabilitation project is due to get
under way before the end of the year.
"It's not changing the footprint or the look of the bridges," said
Kevin Nursick of Connecticut's Department of Transportation, adding
that every project on the Merritt, right down to tree removal, must be
vetted by preservationists. "We do everything we can to ensure the work
we're doing is sensitive to the parkway. About the only thing we don't
discuss with stakeholders is how to mow the grass."
On the Merritt, Nursick said, the state does all it can to please
preservationists. But given the area's increased traffic, change is
"If it was exactly the same as it was when it was built, it wouldn't be
very safe," he said. "But given the changes that have taken place in
this state, in this country, in this world, the Merritt Parkway
essentially remains the same."
Merritt Parkway Named Endangered
Staff and Wire Reports
October 7, 2009
The Merritt Parkway in southwestern Connecticut is among 93 cultural
heritage sites worldwide singled out by a preservation group as needing
A list released Tuesday by the World Monuments Fund puts the parkway in
the company of the ancient ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru, Antoni
Gaudi's Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, the remote monastery
Phajoding in Bhutan, and dozens of other sites in 47 countries.
The parkway was nominated by the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, which
works for the roadway's preservation.
"We're just thrilled to have it be listed," said Jill Smyth, executive
director of the conservancy. She said the designation will help promote
the need to preserve the artwork on the parkway's nearly 70 bridges as
well as the scenic landscaping.
"There's always that fine balance between preservation and
incorporating what [state transportation officials] believe is needed
for a safe, modern design for a highway," Smyth said.
In 1991, the 37.5-mile parkway was placed on the National Register of
Material released with the fund's announcement touted the parkway's
native flora and winding route as reflecting the state's natural
beauty, and the craftsmanship of bridge designs ranging "from French
Renaissance and neoclassic to art deco and rustic." The fund said that
these attributes "may be at risk due to necessary infrastructure work
required to maintain the Merritt as a major thoroughfare."
The fund said two sites in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 and
the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, face continuing challenges
following Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the area in 2005. Other
U.S. sites on the watch list include architect Frank Lloyd Wright's
home Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., and Taliesin West in Scottsdale,
An international panel of heritage preservation experts considered the
195 nominations for this year's World Monuments Fund list, said Amy
Freitag, the fund's U.S. program director. The New York-based fund
issues its watch list every two years.
An Associated Press report was
included in this story.
Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant
Merritt heads to Court: U.S.
District Court set to hear motions next week in the lawsuit filed by
By ROBERT KOCH,
Hour Staff Writer
August 27, 2005
NORWALK -- Next week may mark the first juncture in a legal bid to halt
the state's $98 million overhaul of the Route 7-Merritt Parkway
On Thursday, U.S. District Court in New Haven is scheduled to hear
motions by the Merritt Parkway Conservancy and other preservation
groups aimed ultimately at forcing the state to downsize its
long-planned overhaul that began last spring.
The groups sued the state Department of Transportation and Federal
Highway Administration in early June, barely a month after the state
signed a $34 million construction contract with O&G Industries
launching Phase One. That portion entails rebuilding the Main Avenue
interchange and Glover Avenue bridge.
Thursday's scheduled hearing before Judge Mark Kravitz addresses a
temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed June 20 by
the plaintiffs, who hope to save the Main Avenue bridge. The hearing
had been set for Aug. 1.
"The Connecticut DOT agreed to refrain from any further dismantling of
the Main Avenue bridge until Sept. 1," said Andrea Ferster, attorney
for the preservation groups. "Construction of the project is
proceeding, and if they demolish a historic bridge prior to the
adjudication of the case ... that will result in irreparable damage to
the Merritt Parkway."
In May, construction crews began removing trees along the parkway near
Main Avenue. Since then, work has proceeded as possible, given the
pending lawsuit, according to Chris Cooper, a DOT spokesman.
Cooper said the state has voluntarily restricted work to the ramp
southbound from the parkway to Main Avenue, and preparation work at the
Glover Avenue bridge.
"We agreed to not do any work on any of the
elements that could be considered by the plaintiffs to be historically
sensitive," Cooper said. "Essentially, we're expecting to have a better
sense of our direction after that Sept. 1 hearing. We have not lost too
much on the timetable, because there are other activities we could move
forward on. Clearly Sept. 1 is an important date for the project."
Business leaders and elected officials, including Mayor Alex Knopp,
consider the interchange project critical to retaining jobs and
industry, reducing traffic accidents on Main Avenue, and making the
Route 7 Connector-Merritt Parkway interchange immediately west of Main
Avenue accessible to cars from all directions.
The Parkway Conservancy, Norwalk Land Trust, National Trust for
Historic Preservation in the United States and other plaintiffs in the
lawsuit say the state's design is too big and will destroy the historic
character of the parkway
"They refused to consider any other alternatives on their own, and they
refused to consider the alternatives that the conservancy submitted,"
said Peter Malkin, Parkway Conservancy co-chairman.
Malkin said the Sierra Club and the Connecticut Historical Society have
joined as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 9 a.m. at U.S. District Court
in New Haven, 141 Church St.
Route 7-Merritt plan meeting
April 5, 2005 CT POST:
By ROB VARNON firstname.lastname@example.org
state Department of Transportation
will hold an informational meeting today at Norwalk City Hall to
the design of a project that would fully connect the Merritt Parkway
the Route 7 expressway.
DOT's plan to use ramps to connect
the roads in Norwalk has drawn sharp criticism from the Merritt Parkway
Conservancy and other opponents who say this is really an attempt to
the "Super 7" project the name given to the plan to connect Norwalk
Danbury with an expressway.
that project was killed in the
early 1990s and the current Route 7 expressway is less than six miles
running from Interstate 95 in Norwalk to the edge of Wilton, just north
of the Merritt.
meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m.
at City Hall, 125 East Ave.
one can be sure how many people
could be directly served by this project, but U.S. Census Bureau data
2000 indicated that more than 43,000 people who worked in the
region lived north and east of the interchange project.
included more than 30,000 people in the Bridgeport area and about 4,642
in the Naugatuck Valley, according to the bureau.
DOT and Gov. M. Jodi Rell emphatically
said last week that the state does not have any intention of
the Super 7 plan. DOT Deputy Commissioner Carl Bard said Friday that
project will simply finish the connection between the roads.
DOT and the conservancy agree
that the connection should be improved, mainly because
drivers heading south on the Merritt
from municipalities north of Norwalk can't access the expressway to get
to I-95; instead, they must use Norwalk city streets to do so.
Laurie Heiss, the conservancy's
executive director, said Friday that it doesn't make sense to link the
southbound Merritt with the northbound Route 7 expressway because it
less than two miles north of the parkway. People heading to Danbury
must take a right onto Grist Mill Road, then a left onto the
Route 7, which is a two-lane road. She noted that people wishing to
north toward Danbury from the Bridgeport area usually take Route 33,
can be accessed from the Merritt a few miles northeast of the
conservancy is offering two designs
for the project, which it says will cost less and take less time to
The plans eliminate several of the ramps in favor of traffic circles.
mayor of Norwalk, the Business
Council of Fairfield County (SACIA), the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce
the South Western Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization support
DOT's plan. The MPO is made up of the chief elected officials of the
surrounding Stamford and Norwalk.
Forging A Trail In Connecticut:
Not Always Easy (from 2004 RPA Regional Assembly on-line report)
of drivers have experienced
the magnificence of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, arguably the f
irst parkway-style highway in the country, but only a fortunate few
traveled its wooded environs on f oot or bicycle.
Plan Association would like
to change that and has been advocating since the early 1990s f or the
of a path along the
150-foot right-of -way that planners
reserved since the highway opened in 1934. But the Merritt trail
is not a new idea. According to several historical documents and
by Thayer Chase, the landscape architect of the parkway, it is clear
a Merritt trail system was considered when the parkway was designed. In
Greenwich, in fact, a bridle path was partially constructed, and it is
still in use today.
right-of-way's 150-foot width
is filled with plantings, natural rock outcroppings and meandering
Unique in character, it is easy to understand why the original
contemplated a path along its entire 37.5-mile length. But, alas,
minds prevailed and the land was eventually set aside for additional
instead. So it was not until 1990 that the door reopened for a greenway
trail, when Emil Frankel, who was then commissioner of the Connecticut
Department of Transportation, declared the right-of-way off limits for
of dense development and
the north-south ridges that mark the Connecticut topography, the
is the only logical place to site an off -road trail through Fairfield
County. And in 1994, RPA's Merritt Parkway Trail Study provided
documentation that demonstrated the feasibility of the trail. The study
generated interest f rom several communities, but the concept never
drew the broad consensus that was needed to get the trail out of
and into design.
the trail would pass through
seven municipalities, it was felt it could best be achieved
by building segments in areas with strong local support and, over time,
connecting them. So while RPA continued to keep the project in the
eye through news articles, civic
meetings and other outreach eff
orts, the project focus was on identifying a community willing to build
that first essential segment.
early 2000, the project took a
giant leap forward when the City of Stamford took an interest in the
path. The mayor and planning department made an innovative proposal for
a citywide trail system that was a perfect fit for the Merritt trail.
following March, with Stamford's backing and funding from the Alex G.
Foundation, RPA released a study, "The Merritt Parkway Trail
Project." Prepared by Milone & MacBroom, Inc., the study covers an
approximately 1-mile segment between High Ridge Road and Newfield
It was well received, generated good press coverage and increased
support for the trail.
on that broad-based support,
RPA convened the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance in October of 2001. The
Alliance is comprised of corporations, chambers of commerce, municipal
organizations, schools, environmental organizations, land trusts, other
trail organizations, clubs,
bicycle shops, and many individuals.
great idea with broad support doesn't
always translate into immediate construction, however. The DOT
publicly stated that they will not add more lanes, but they may not
given up on using that right of way for more lanes some day. In
the DOT, RPA and the Stamford mayor requested permission to construct
first 1-mile section of the trail described in "The Merritt Parkway
Demonstration Project." The request to the DOT fell on deaf ears, with
responses stating that the department had denied "various past
to use the right-of-way. But a breakthrough came in the summer of 2003,
when the state DOT modified its position.
response to a supportive letter
from Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, the DOT again expressed safety and
concerns but then said that it would "initiate discussions" with the
Historic Commission, the Connecticut Trust f or Historic Preservation,
the Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee, the Merritt Parkway
local officials, and others, "to evaluate the desirability and f
of a Merritt Parkway Trail."
DOT also said that that it wanted
to review and analyze the trail system "as part of a contiguous Merritt
Parkway trail." With that news in hand, RPA and the MPTA has
on an eff ort to inform the elected off icials and other organizations
about the benefits of such a trail throughout the eight cities and
through which the Parkway passes, as well as towns nearby. Nearly all
Elected Officials along the corridor have endorsed the project, and
is optimism that support along the entire length of the parkway, f rom
the New York State line to the Housatonic River can be received from
neighbors and other stakeholders.
years after the Merritt opened,
there is reason to be optimistic that the trail will become a reality.
And the timing couldnβt be better, with the U.S. Surgeon
off ice now reporting that more than 60 percent of Americans are
or obese. Making our communities
will encourage citizens to get out of their cars and onto their feet
provide safe alternate forms of transportation and healthy exercise for
everyone. A trail will encourage bicycling and walking between
commercial and recreation areas,
employment centers, shopping, universities
and schools, all of which are located along the Merritt Parkway.
--John Atkin, Connecticut director,
A view of the right-of-way
Event to preview
proposed Merritt bike path
By Mark Ginocchio
Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
October 22, 2004
of a 37.5-mile Merritt
Parkway bike and pedestrian trail from Greenwich to Stratford hope a
event Sunday will garner more support for their cause.
Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance
and the Regional Plan Association will hold Merritt Trail Day 2004 from
noon to 5 p.m. at the Italian Center in Stamford. It will include
walks of a proposed demonstration leg of the trail and other activities.
all goes well, the event will
give the proposal more momentum, said Linda Hoza, project manager for
Regional Plan Association, a tri-state organization overseeing planning
for the trail.
building a strong grassroots
support for the trail," Hoza said. "We've spoken to mayors and first
and most of them support it."
state Department of Transportation,
which has to grant permission before the alliance can build a
leg between High Ridge Road and Newfield Avenue in Stamford, has
the project to research its practicality.
pursuing something, we need
to know if the consensus is there and if it's strong enough," said
Trotta, assistant planning director for the state. "There are still a
of issues that need to be identified."
Mayor Dannel Malloy said
the support is there.
an idea that will grow and
grow and some people come to understand what it's about," Malloy said.
"We have the road systems that give this the potential."
the DOT hasn't budged.
DOT has not set a deadline for
a ruling and, until then, "we are stuck at a dead end," Hoza said.
all officials support the parkway
First Selectman Kenneth
Flatto said the town is committed to preserving open space and opposes
a new trail in Fairfield.
impact it would have on open
space and neighboring residences would be enormous," Flatto said.
said he does not oppose the demonstration
leg in Stamford and favors expanding some existing trails in Fairfield,
but Flatto said he did not want to add construction on the parkway.
Merritt Parkway Conservancy,
a group that wants to preserve the historical nature of the parkway,
the alliance's concept but opposes anything that would damage the
character, Executive Director Laurie Heiss said.
said the path could provide
traffic relief by giving commuters an option to bike or walk instead of
driving. It also would get people to better experience the parkway,
$500,000 is needed to build
the demonstration leg, Hoza said. The project would be financed by
and federal grants and private donations.