State DOT and DEP voice support for Merritt trail work
The heads of the state's transportation and environmental protection agencies have agreed to explore how to incorporate a multi-use bike and walking path in the wooded corridor south of the Merritt Parkway into their plans.
"We're taking a fresh look at the role that bicycles and pedestrians have in improving mobility," state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie said. "The Merritt trail is definitely worth evaluating."
Amey Marrella, the state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, said the agency considers a proposed 1-mile pilot path between High Ridge Road and Newfield Avenue in Stamford a promising way to try out the idea of a longer 37.5 mile, non-motorized path between Greenwich and Stratford.
"They already have a pretty detailed conceptual design and have done a lot of the work with adjacent property owners," Marrella said. " The main thing now is to go from a conceptual design to an actual design for construction and find the resources to do it."
The Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance and other non-profit groups have been pushing the 37.5-mile trail concept since 1992, Linda Hoza, an alliance coordinator, said.
Hoza said the new coordination and focus by the two departments has excited local bicycle and pedestrian advocates, who have tried to get the High Ridge to Newfield Avenue path built since 1994.
"It's amazing to have this support for the project after 17 years," she said. "This is the
Marie said he would like to see part of the trail built, but that design challenges like wrapping the route around the parkway's series of ornate concrete bridges, community opposition, and the overall cost of the trail could pose challenges.
"There are some significant challenges to the project but there are parts of it that could be built," Marie said.
Marrella said beginning next spring, the DEP expects to award a series of $1.4 million federal grants for greenway projects; she encouraged local planners and activists to submit proposals.
Overall, constructing the path would benefit ongoing efforts to expand recreational trail networks and help improve air quality, she said.
"I think the rationale and the reasons why greenways make sense are increasing," Marrella said. "When you look at the increasing certainty of climate change this project could provide an alternative not just to deal with our traditional pollutants like smog but also to reduce greenhouse gases."
Under the state's Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2008, the state is reduce greenhouse emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 2001 levels by 2050, Marrella said.
Transportation accounts for more than one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, according to the DEP.
Marrella said the route is included as part of the 2,750-mile East Coast Greenway, a series of trails stretching from Canada to Florida.
"We're hoping to get a lot of robust proposals for greenways this spring," Marrella said.
The state's draft update of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, which is compiled by the DOT, also includes a recommendation for a feasibility study of a Merritt Parkway trail.
Hoza said the right of way along the parkway's south side is broad enough for the path to bypass Merritt bridges without much trouble.
If the trail was built in southern Fairfield County, it could be linked in with other trail systems along the Mill and Norwalk rivers to allow employees to bike to work, improving health and air quality, she said.
"This is a time when we are trying to get people out of their cars but we don't provide them the facilities to do so in Fairfield County," Hoza said. "We're just at the beginning of this process and there are design issues and people with NIMBY issues that have to be addressed."
Jill Smyth, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a group that promotes the preservation of the highway's historical character, said the group is open to the idea, but concerned about environmental and aesthetic effects of the proposed path.
Several years ago, the conservancy agreed not to oppose the construction of the one mile pilot path from High Ridge Road to Newfield Avenue if the state decided to fund building it.
"We have concerns about the impacts of the multi-use trail and how it would change the character of the parkway," Smyth said. "What would it look like? We would be opposed to any further clearcutting of the trees that would threaten the defining elements of the parkway."
Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or at 203-964-2264.