Norwalk photos: Merritt Parkway ‘denuding’

(Paul Cantor)
(Paul Cantor)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk resident Paul Cantor recently viewed the tree cutting along the Merritt Parkway and asked if “they” were working on widening the parkway or constructing bike/pedestrian path alongside it. Or, he asked, “or?”

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has a years-long project aimed at making Merritt Parkway motorists safer.

Shannon King Burnham, ConnDOT Strategic Communications Manager, explained:

“The Merritt Parkway Improvements project is the final project in a series of projects for safety, resurfacing, and historical aesthetic improvements of the Merritt Parkway between exit 37 South Avenue and exit 40 Main Avenue in Norwalk.

“Recent work completed for the project in Norwalk includes milling and placing the base course of asphalt on the northbound mainline, as well as asphalt repairs on the northbound and southbound mainlines and tree removal.

“Upcoming work for the project includes shoulder reconstruction, drainage repairs and installation, and concrete barrier reconstruction below White Oak Shade Road, Marvin Ridge Road, and Comstock Hill Avenue in New Canaan. Milling and paving on the southbound mainline is expected to resume spring 2023.

“The project is estimated to be completed in fall 2024.”


(Paul Cantor)

“I don’t see how stripping the side of the road of trees to the extent that we are witnessing makes the Merritt safer but what do I know?” Cantor wrote. “Wonder how the homeowners who are losing the protective and esthetic value of the trees are reacting.  As for me, I don’t like it.”

This was a topic at a Democratic Town Committee meeting about a year ago, when member Diane Keefe said ConnDOT was “denuding the entire perimeter of the Merritt Parkway.”

Sheri McCready-Pritchett told her the project had “been going on for a long time” and it stemmed from a family being killed when trees fell on their car.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, in a 2013 newsletter, also cites a “terrible accident” as inspiring ConnDOT to cut down trees in a wider swath, in addition to “damage following the 2011 and 2013 storms.”

“There have been many trees that have fallen on the Merritt Parkway, not only on cars, but also across the parkway and blocking all the lanes,” Mayor Harry Rilling said, at the February 2022 DTC meeting. The road dates to the 30s, the trees are even older and “they started to become weak and started to fall more frequently with all the storms we’ve been having. It’s also my understanding now that many of the trees that have been cut down will be replaced with newer trees.”

King Burnham recently explained:

“There are many reasons trees are removed from the Merritt Parkway including trees located within the excavation area of a construction project. Additionally, deceased trees or trees identified as invasive species and potential fall hazards to the parkway are removed. Healthy trees may be trimmed to allow more sunlight to the roadway surface to improve safety for drivers.

“CTDOT works collaboratively with partners like the Merritt Parkway Conservancy and will continue to do so through the completion of this project scheduled for fall 2024. CTDOT’s landscape design team actively coordinates with various stakeholder groups and CTDOT’s maintenance team on strategic planting and clearing, resulting in more manageable and less frequent maintenance.”

(Paul Cantor)
(Paul Cantor)
(Paul Cantor)


(Paul Cantor)
(Paul Cantor)


11 responses to “Norwalk photos: Merritt Parkway ‘denuding’”

  1. Susan Guerrero

    The extensive use of herbicides was most distressing and also should concern the neighbors. Unless the shorn areas are carefully and expensively landscaped, unsightly weeds, mostly invasive, will spring up and be almost impossible to manage.

  2. Robert Mobley

    What was once a beautiful drive with plenty of coverage for homeowners, is now only going to lower property values, strip away much need habitat for animals, and do nothing to improve congestion. What a shame.

  3. Kay Anderson

    If I remember correctly, shortly after we moved here in 1991, CT DOT cut down all trees and vegetation at Exit 40, basically across from to Stop and Shop on Main.
    We are still waiting for the promised replanting of that barren area, as CT DOT proclaims in their releases…

  4. Visually this clear-cutting looks like over-kill, a massacre, especially when forested areas become more and more scarce.

  5. Johnny cardamone

    I was wondering, is there a law that the parkway can only have two lanes? I do realize the design of the bridges creates that restriction. Obviously safety is paramount, but I hope the mayor is right and that they are going to plant new trees or some kind of buffer greenery for the residence.

  6. Mike Mushak

    I can relate to the shock of seeing these trees removed or trimmed, but it’s not as bad as it looks. Trees have “latent buds” that are triggered into sprouting when sunlight hits the bark, so most of newly exposed bare tree trunks will sprout leafy new branches and fill in the gaps in just a couple of years.

    You see this effect anywhere trees are removed and sunlight now reaches into the depths of woodlands that were previously shaded. It often ends up denser than before. I saw this happen along the NJ Turnpike when it was widened in central Jersey a decade ago between exits 6 and 9. . I took that road every few weeks from CT to South Jersey to visit my parents before they passed, and watched how quickly the “utility pole” look of tall bare trunks along the freshly cut right of way sprouted branches and filled in with a solid green wall that you see now.

    Also, the original design of the landmarked Merritt Parkway in the 1930’s was for a pastoral look with plenty of sky visible with borders of native flowering trees like dogwoods, redbuds, and shadblow at the edges of large grassy areas. New native trees are being planted by the hundreds.

    This tree work restores the original historical look of the parkway, with all the unique bridges (69 original bridges, all different) more visible than before the brush and trees were cut back.

    So be patient, as the Parkway will be safer and more attractive after the work is done, and the “green wall” effect I described from latent bud activation will fill in quickly and it will actually be greener and better screened than before.

  7. Jo Bennett

    It’s criminal what they are doing to the Parkway. It’s going to be an erosion nightmare, and I also feel for the animals whose habitats have been destroyed. These promised tree plantings will be of no consequence during our lifetimes. As usual, Norwalk gets crapped on by the state in a way they wouldn’t dare in Greenwich.

  8. Harold Cobin

    From the Regional Plan Association’s 1994 Trail Study: When the Merritt Parkway was constructed by the Connecticut Highway Department (now the Connecticut Department of Transportation) a swath of land approximately 300 feet wide was purchased. For the most part, the Merritt Parkway was constructed in the northern one-third or one-half of the right-of-way, leaving the southern part free of development.

    [A] proposed trail could eventually extend along the entire length of the Parkway, from Greenwich to Stratford, linking the major parks and protected open space lands that are adjacent or near to the right-of-way.

  9. Kelly Wheeler

    For someone who has the Merritt in my backyard, it has been a long time coming to finally have some silence in our back yard after all the tree clearing and then much needed construction and now a nice roadway. The pros, easier means for drivers to pull over if needed in case of emergency. Easier water drainage during storms. Not so much of an encroaching feeling while driving down the Merritt vs 20 years ago with the aging trees were looming over the roadways. Some of you may forget during the prior governors administration, we had countless wind storms, ice and snow storms that took out a lot of trees on the Merritt and even some injured or killed drivers as they fell during these storms and even though it was painful to watch them being cleared from the median and filtered out from the edges of the forest, it needed to be done for the safety of the drivers.
    The Cons, those of us who live close to the Merritt do not have as much forest to deaden the roadway sound, to provide some privacy and it also makes it easier for drivers to “bail” during accidents or traffic. We had someone have their van stolen out of their driveway after a hit and run on the Merritt went through the woods and took off in the neighbors van. I will say in some circumstances, we have had a few drivers who just have a bad circumstance and need some roadside help but since the invention of the cellular phone, that hasn’t happened in quite a long time.
    If the Merritt needed more improvement, I would HIGHLY suggest there be emergency vehicle ONLY access points at all the over passes on the Merritt so they don’t have to struggle fighting in “no man land” between route 7 and Wilton/Westport and Westport/Weston to Fairfield to get to the accident scenes better and faster.

  10. As a State Representative in Norwalk, I am on the Transportation Committee and we are working on bill: HB6744. The summary of the bill is as follows…

    To require the Department of Transportation to develop guidelines
    governing tree removal and vegetation management, to obtain approval
    from a certified arborist prior to any tree removal and to provide certain
    notices and disclosures regarding tree removal and vegetation

    I’m happy to discuss this with you. Please contact me through my website http://www.repmarra.com

  11. steve balazs

    My guess is that they are trying to stop lawsuits–https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2018/02/21/connecticut-agrees-to-pay-6-5m-to-estate-of-couple-killed-by-tree-on-parkway/

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