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The Merritt Parkway - Connecticut's National Historic Road

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Background

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.

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The Preservation Campaign

 

“There is no more scenic Parkway in the United States that I know of. See to it that it is preserved in its pristine beauty and glory.”

 

Merritt Parkway looking west to Riversville Road in Greenwich, photo

When Governor Wilbur L. Cross made this remark in a speech he gave at the opening ceremonies of the Merritt Parkway in June of 1938, he may have had an idea that someday there would be a call to widen the Merritt.  What he may not have foreseen was the determination of many people in Connecticut to preserve the “Queen of the Parkways.”

Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, the need to link Connecticut’s towns and cities with each other and with neighboring states led to plans for the construction of numerous highways, thruways, expressways, and Interstates. In the 1970s, two of these roads, Route 8 and Route 25, were being built to enable drivers to bypass busy city streets. The issue was that these new ‘superhighways’ would intersect with the Merritt Parkway.

In response to the Department of Transportation's plans to connect the Parkway with the two busy interchanges, the “Save the Merritt Association” was formed in Fairfield County. It called for a halt to the plans to widen a five mile stretch of the Parkway where the roads would meet, and a redesign of the multi-level interchanges in order to preserve the Merritt’s unique charm. The Association eventually persuaded Governor Thomas J. Meskill to put a stop to the project and ask the Department of Transportation to come up with a new plan that better suited the Parkway’s design. A compromise was finally reached whereby entrance and exit ramps would be added where the heaviest traffic was expected, but most of the Parkway would remain unchanged.

Almost from the day the Merritt Parkway was built, there was speculation that it would have to be widened at some point to keep up with the increasing traffic. In the early 1990s, the speculation became more intense as the Department of Transportation discussed plans to widen the Parkway to eight lanes. In order for this to take place, the famous bridges that spanned the Parkway would have to be altered. The artistic landscaping would also need to be destroyed and filled in with concrete. These plans distressed many people. Organizations from Fairfield County and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation again took up the Merritt’s cause. In 1991, after years of effort, the Merritt Parkway was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The listing, however, did not guarantee that the Parkway would not be changed.

In May of 1993, the Merritt Parkway was designated as a state scenic road. This designation meant that a committee would have to review any changes or improvements to the road. In celebration, Governor Lowell P. Weicker unveiled a ‘scenic road’ sign at the northbound rest area in Greenwich. In a speech he gave at the event, Weicker commented, “There’s no reason why it can’t be beautiful and still utilitarian.” Today, groups such as the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, work to preserve the Merritt Parkway's unique charm.