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.”
“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.”