October 16, 2001, RPA convened a meeting where several organizations joined together to become founding members of the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance (MPTA). The Alliance continues to grow with environmentalists, preservationist, open space advocates, hikers, bicyclists, and people concerned about quality of life issues all represented on its membership.
The Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance is a group of organizations and individuals who advocate the creation of a safe continuous non-motorized trail along the entire length of the Merritt Parkway for users of all ages and abilities, including walkers, cyclists, skaters, cross country skiers and persons with disabilities.
The concept of a trail system along the Merritt has been of interest since the Parkway was first conceived. When it was built in the 30s, the right-of-way in Greenwich incorporated bridle paths that are still in use today and unofficial pedestrian trails exist throughout much of the length of the Parkway.
As the only continuous inland trail running east-west along the length of Fairfield County, the Merritt would provide a link to existing paths that cross the Parkway as well as to several proposed trails such as the Housatonic River Greenway, the Mill River Corridor, the Route 7 Linear Park and the Norwalk River Trail. It would provide a major missing link in the East Coast Greenway, a planned non-motorized corridor that will extend from Maine to Florida.
Other important elements of the Merritt trail project are:
- Provide commuting opportunities to residential, commercial and recreational areas, employment centers, shopping centers, a university and schools, all located along the length of the Parkway.
- Preserve open space
- Provide safe recreation
- Help, in even a small way, to ease the traffic congestion on our roads
- Improve air quality
- Improve community health
- Provide safe wheelchair access to shopping, schools, the work place, and parks
- Provide an up-close opportunity to enjoy and examine the 36 varied and unique bridges along the Merritt
- Provide an up-close opportunity to enjoy existing specimen plantings as well as those planned for the future as part of the Merritt Parkway restoration project
- Provide a connection to the bicycle/pedestrian lane that is a component of the new Housatonic River Bridge currently under construction
Because of political realities, a contiguous trail along the Merritt Parkway could best be achieved incrementally, through building segments of the trail in areas where there is local support and, over time, connecting them. This commonsense approach has been successful in other areas, for example, Rhode Island, where the 14.5 mile East Bay Bicycle Path from Bristol to Providence began as a short segment in one town. When the popularity of the path was demonstrated, support for it grew in four adjacent towns.
While ConnDOT officials appear to have no problem with the idea of a trail, they have stated they will only consider one if requested to do so by each municipality along its route. Meeting the needs and concerns of town citizens and going through the local and state approval process will require time and perseverance.
The cost of a trail system along the Merritt’s 37.5 miles is considerable and made more expensive by the steep terrain, rock outcroppings, wetlands and interchanges. Funding would need to come from many sources including the federal transportation act, Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which requires each state to develop a transportation plan that includes alternative forms of transportation, such as bicycle/pedestrian paths. Additional monies would come from state matching funds, local municipalities, businesses and organized interests groups.
Where as identifying and obtaining the needed funding to do the entire trail system will be a long term effort, initial funding for a demonstration segment in an area where clear support is present, will be more straightforward and will help to prove the viability of the larger trail. Once built, the demonstration segment can be replicated in other towns.
Toward that end, The Merritt Parkway Trail Demonstration Project (Landscape Study for a Proposed Bicycle and Pedestrian Path) was prepared by Milone & MacBroom, Inc. and was released in March 2001. The proposed segment is between High Ridge Road and Newfield Avenue in Stamford where Mayor Malloy and the City of Stamford Planning Department have been very supportive of the initiative. The MPTA will develop a public outreach and community education program; obtain the necessary state and local permits; coordinate between ConnDOT and local planning, zoning and recreation boards; and obtain ISTEA funds and the necessary 20% matching state funds.