Since its opening in 1940, the Merritt Parkway has been recognized not only as an essential component of Connecticut's transportation system but as an asset with unique design features and scenic character. During the 1990s, ConnDOT sought to improve the Parkway's safety and operational efficiency while preserving the road's unique characteristics. This case study illustrates this project and the importance of framework development, being flexible in the use of design criteria, and addressing safety problems with specific actions.
The Merritt Parkway (the Parkway) was constructed in the 1930s and opened to traffic in 1940. The facility, a four-lane divided arterial highway, was originally designed and continues to function as an essential component of Connecticut's transportation system.
The Parkway has long been recognized for its unique design features and scenic character. Its park-like setting, majestic bridges, and scenic landscaping make it a distinct and appreciated asset to the state. The bridge architecture utilizes motifs that were popular in the 1930s, including Art Moderne, Art Dec, Classical, Gothic, and Renaissance.
The Parkway was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, and in 1993, was designated a State Scenic Road. In 1996, it achieved designation as a National Scenic Byway.
When first constructed, the land use through which the Parkway was built was primarily rural, agricultural, and open space uses. Over time, the landscape has matured and changed. Development has occurred in the vicinity of the Parkway, bringing with it both increased traffic and residences near the Parkway.
Both the volume of traffic and its character and operations have changed over time. The Parkway now carries traffic in excess of 50,000 vehicles per day in some segments. Originally designed for speeds prevalent in the 1930s (35 to 40 mph), it now operates at speeds in excess of 60 mph, and with greater density of traffic. The Parkway has evolved into now serving as a commuter route.
Not surprisingly, the substantive safety history of the Parkway has become an increasing concern to the Connecticut DOT. Both the terrain and context, as well as the character of the original design, produce relatively high risk of severe roadside collisions with obstacles such as trees and rock outcropping. Shoulders are typically only 2 feet wide, and clear areas and offsets to fixed objects generally less than 6 feet. The narrow median was not originally designed with a physical barrier. The heavier traffic and speeds greater than the Parkway was designed for are also issues of concern.
From 1986 through 1990, there was one reported crash every 8 hours, one injury every 20 hours, one fatality every 52 days, and a guide rail struck every 36 hours along the 38-mile corridor. This alarming history of both frequent and severe crashes indicated a need for action.
Problems to be Solved
The problems to be solved were improving the safety and operational efficiency of the Parkway while maintaining its unique and valued characteristics. Related to these problems were resolving the long-term role of the Parkway relative to development and its attendant pressures, and with respect to other transportation system features in the area.
These problems were articulated in a series of questions and issues developed by a stakeholder working group that was convened by the Connecticut DOT.
Merrit Parkway Gateway Project Full Text
Merritt Parkway Gateway Project