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The Merritt Parkway - Connecticut's National Historic Road

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Controversy and Scandal

The Merritt Parkway Opens

About this Exhibit

To learn the story of the Merritt Parkway, select from the list of topics above.

To view digital images of materials included in this exhibit, choose the "View Digital Collections," link near the top of the page.


Authorization and Funding

At first, the idea for a parkway in Fairfield County was a response to the crowding and fatalities along Route 1, the Boston Post Road, a two lane highway.  In 1923, State Highway Commissioner John A. MacDonald first proposed a parallel route to Route 1, arguing that another road was needed for improved traffic flow and highway safety.  By the end of the decade, the State legislature had passed three bills.  One bill authorized MacDonald to “lay out” a highway from Stratford to Greenwich.

Merritt Parkway at "Ripple's Cut" in Greenwich, photo

Passed in 1931, Bill 613 created the Merritt Highway Commission, giving it authority to control land on which the highway was built, supervise roadside development and the granting of concessions, and promulgate highway rules and regulations.  The bill, however, granted these powers “when the Merritt Highway shall be constructed.”  The Commission interpreted this clause to mean that the powers became operable during the construction, but the Connecticut Attorney General rendered an opinion stating that Commission’s powers existed only after the end of construction.  According to the Attorney General, the Highway Commissioner would oversee construction of the highway, and the Commission’s only function lay in making recommendations to the Commissioner.

For years very little progress was made on financing the purchase of land and construction.  The Assembly battled over appropriations, and officials looked to the Public Works Administration (PWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA), two New Deal relief agencies, to provide a large amount of the needed funds.  This never happened.  The legislature preferred to follow the spending philosophy made famous by Republican boss J. Henry Roraback known as “pay-as-you-go.” The doctrine seemed sound and fiscally conservative but precluded the successful completion of the road for ten to fifteen years depending on which funding plan was adopted.  State and county officials and legislators argued that the road was needed immediately.  One of the best organized local groups was the Fairfield County Planning Association (FCPA).  It saw the highway as a conduit for county development and lobbied MacDonald, Governor Wilbur L. Cross, and the General Assembly on a variety of its local concerns.  During the last days of the Assembly’s 1935 session, a financing bill was passed giving the county permission to issue $15 million in bonds which would be amortized every year using the Highway Commission’s funds.  In 1952, all the bonds were retired, and the parkway cost $21,225,334.

Two other provisions were added to the bill, reflecting the concerns of the FCPA.  The road was to be known as the Merritt Parkway, not a highway, and commercial vehicles were prohibited from using it.  The road was to be a first in Connecticut:  the first divided highway with four lanes; a “parkway” with splendid “beautification;” and the most expensive public works project in Connecticut history to that time.

Merritt Parkway one half mile east of the CT-NY state line in Greenwich, photo