Concerns: Challenges and Myths

The Merritt Parkway Trail has vocal opponents. What are the reasons for their opposition?  
Neighbors.  Much of the opposition is from adjoining property owners and neighborhood associations. Homeowners nationwide express the same concerns and fears about proposed trails in their neighborhoods. But studies show that concerns about trails lowering property values and increasing crime and vandalism are unfounded. In fact, trails have consistently been shown to increase (or have no effect on) property values, to have no measurable effect on public safety, and to have an overwhelmingly positive influence on the quality of life for trail neighbors as well as the larger community.
The recent experience of the Farmington Valley Trail is an example. At the request of adjoining homeowners, barriers initially were installed bordering the trail. Most of these have since been taken down at the request of the same homeowners who now view the trail as an amenity to which they want access. 
Preserving the Character of the Merritt Other opponents of the trail are concerned with the trail's impact on the Merritt's original design principles. Given the Merritt's iconic status, this is a laudable goal, but sensitively done, the trail should not effect the character of the Merritt. 
Prospective users of the trail want it to be attractive and user-friendly, a trail developed in keeping with the concept of the Merritt as a linear park, a trail that would be for multi-use trail users what the Merritt is for motorists. 
Working together, proponents and opponents can help Conn/DOT to design and build a regional asset that respects the Merritt's character – and is safe. The following are issues to be decided when the trail is built on which proponents and opponents may have some agreement:: 
  • Chain link fences Conn/DOT proposes to install chain link fences on either side of the trail. A fence between the trail and the highway is uncommon in multi-use trails adjacent to highways – a less obtrusive fence or barrier is much more common (e.g., the Hudson River Greenway in Manhattan). A chain link fence would be unsightly and would detract from the experience of trail users. It would also impede the movement of wildlife. The second chain link fence would be placed along the southern boundary of the right of way, not adjacent to the trail, and would replace fencing that was installed when the Parkway was built but is now in disrepair. This second fence may be appropriate where there are private homes adjacent to the right-of-way, to define the boundary and assure the privacy of adjoining homeowners, prevent encroachment onto the right-of-way and end or at least discourage the practice of adjoining homeowners of using the right-of-way as a dump. However, not installing a fence in places where the right-of-way abuts a public road, park or other open space would help connect the trail to the land and communities through which it passes. 
  • Tree removal Proponents of the trail agree that the removal of trees should be limited to what is necessary to locate the trail attractively within the constraints of the topography. But the removal of invasives, which are endemic along the right-of-way, is desirable, and construction of the trail would afford an opportunity to address this problem. The trail itself would afford access to the right-of-way so that native vegetation could be re-introduced. 
  • Visual Impact Multi-use trails exist immediately adjacent to the Wilbur Cross and Taconic Parkways, and, while they are clearly visible if you know where to look, they are seldom noticed by passing motorists. The corridor within which the Merritt Parkway Trail would be located is generally at least 150' wide and in most places is considerably wider. The trail would take up less than 10% of that width, but where the trail is located within that corridor would effect its visibility. Because it would enhance the experience of users, proponents of the trail strongly favor locating it as far from the active roadway as possible, which would mean that the trail (and attendant structures) would generally not even be visible to motorists.
It is unlikely that the southerly 150' of the right-of-way will remain unused indefinitely. It is part of a transportation corridor. A multi-use trail would be both a benign use and one in keeping with the vision of the Merritt's founders. Use of the southerly portion of the right-of-way to accommodate additional travel lanes or by other modes of transportation (e.g., a light rail line has been proposed) would truly impact the character of the Merritt. 
Construction of the trail would all but assure that it would not be used for a future widening of the Merritt or for less desirable modes. Conn/DOT currently opposes any such use, but governmental policies can change. Many see the right-of-way as an underutilized asset and will continue to see it that way until it is put to some use. 
Cost Others are concerned about the cost of building the trail. In preparing its feasibility study, Conn/DOT has estimated that the cost would be $200-250 million. This is a conservative estimate and is well above the costs of similar facilities elsewhere in the country, although construction costs in Fairfield County are high. This estimate is as large as it is in major part because of terms Conn/DOT has imposed on itself. The MPTA believes the trail could be built for considerably less. 
Most importantly, Conn/DOT has based its cost estimate on a trail built almost entirely within the 300' right-of-way of the Merritt, even where adjoining land is publicly owned. The cost could be reduced by routing sections of the trail outside of the 300' right-of-way, onto adjoining land or local roads, and by taking advantage of existing (either active or abandoned) or planned new infrastructure to cross three expressways, two rivers and a reservoir. 
The MPTA has identified over nine miles of the trail that could at least initially be located on roads close to and that parallel the Parkway. Use of on-road alternatives would permit the trail to be completed at lower cost, as was done in the case of the Appalachian Trail and many other trails throughout the country. When funding is available, the trail could be relocated off roads as Conn/DOT has proposed. 
The MPTA is familiar with the Merritt right-of-way over its entire 37½-mile length and has studied the routing Conn/DOT used when preparing its estimate. It believes that by making certain changes, approximately 40% of the overall cost could be avoided or deferred. Some of these changes would be temporary, to enable the trail initially to be completed at lower cost. The MPTA believes that others could be permanent. 
Whether or not any changes are made in the routing of the trail, it would be built in sections, and the cost would be spread over time. Conn/DOT has indicated that more than likely the most buildable sections would be the first to be constructed. The full cost would be incurred only when (and if) the entire trail is built.