by Charles A. Monagan
Jun 24, 2011
06:55 AM
On Connecticut

Reposting: Nightmare on the Merritt


This week brought yet another tragedy on the Merritt Parkway, as a tree limb crashed down on a car in Stamford during a storm, killing the driver and injuring a passenger. The incident brought to mind an "On Connecticut" blog post from July 22, 2010, which seems even more applicable today than it did then. The posting follows in its entirety:

"Wednesday was another rough night for commuters using the tree-lined Merritt Parkway. A storm blew through at around 5:30 p.m. dropping limbs that hit at least one car and caused major traffic back-ups. This is something that happens every time there's a storm along the Merritt. Sometimes people die, sometimes they're injured, sometimes it's only property damage or traffic delays. In any event, it's probably time for the parkway's many protectors to stand back and let the DOT make it a safer place to drive.

"I think I can be considered a friend of the Merritt. I have written about it in glowing terms on several occasions. I tend to use it instead of I-95 because I enjoy its aesthetic features - its bridges, plantings and pleasantly curving roadway. But I happened to be driving along it on a very windy evening last spring and, looking up and all around me, I began to think, "This is crazy." Huge tree limbs overhanging the highway were waving and bending. Smaller branches and twigs were dropping all around. It seemed like only a matter of time before something bigger fell and caused real problems. I couldn't wait to get out of there.

"Using some $66.5 million in federal stimulus funds, Connecticut's Department of Transportation (DOT) last year began cutting trees along a stretch of the highway in the Bridgeport/Trumbull/Fairfield area. The project has unquestionably made that section of road safer for motorists, but it also attracted a great deal of criticism from the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, which expressed horror that "residential homes and back yards [were] now visible" and claimed the DOT's clear-cutting methods were causing the "destruction of the Merritt Parkway."

"Another influential voice was heard in Greenwich, where real estate developer (and father-in-law of Richard Blumenthal) Peter Malkin attacked the DOT. "It's a question of they don't care or they don't get it," he said of the agency's tree-clearing efforts.

"But I think they do get it, and that they should continue cutting in a way that best protects motorists. The Merritt is a curious gem. It is historic and charming, but its contours and sight lines were engineered for the traffic of the 1930s; they are hopelessly outmoded for today's steady press of 70-mph traffic. Its many trees provide an impressive canopy, a delight to the eye, but, under certain conditions, a real and continuing safety hazard.

"The question is, when do public safety and the free flow of traffic trump aesthetic pleasure? The parkway is not a hiking trail, or a fading mansion, or an actual park - it's a vital artery in the state's beleaguered transportation system. And in this summer of storms, one thing has become very clear: safety must come first."


Reposting: Nightmare on the Merritt

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