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New Canaan raises concerns about Merritt trail project

Updated 12:49 pm, Sunday, April 8, 2012
  • Department of Transportation Principal Engineer for the Merritt Parkway Trail Project explains to residents what the 37 mile path would include and how the department would try to incorporate community feedback into the plans. Photo: Ben Holbrook
    Department of Transportation Principal Engineer for the Merritt Parkway Trail Project explains to residents what the 37 mile path would include and how the department would try to incorporate community feedback into the plans. Photo: Ben Holbrook

 

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Darien and New Canaan residents Tuesday night were asked to comment on a proposed trail system that would run along the Merritt Parkway from Greenwich to Stratford, and voiced concerns about safety and the costs associated with the project.

The proposed 37.5 mile multi-use trail system is part of a project advocated for by cyclist groups and other individuals. In an effort to determine the viability of the project, the Department of Transportation is hosting a series of informational workshops to receive feedback from residents. The meetings are part of a $1.3 million federally funded study of the path.

Principal engineer Will Brittnell walked about 30 residents through a brief PowerPoint presentation explaining the study's purpose and what the State envisioned the path could include depending on local feedback.

"We're really gathering information from you," Brittnell said. "Using that information, our crew will go out this summer and do conceptual alignment based on information from workshops. Then using that info, we will do an evaluation and in the fall come back for more public information meetings to answer questions in more detail."

Currently, the trail would be open to walkers/joggers, bicycles, people with disabilities and equestrian use where possible. In addition, the trail would be located primarily in the southern half of the right-of-way and could consist of a combination of rock dust and paved surfaces. The state would also attempt to maintain as great a buffer as possible between the trail, the road and surrounding homes.

"Most crossings of side streets would be done at grade but each location will be reviewed and grade separation may be considered in certain cases," he said. "Right now we are not considering building any bridges or tunnels but we will address that on a case-by-case instance after our teams review each site."

Brittnell said one of the DOT's concerns was trail maintenance because the department lacked the necessary manpower to properly maintain the 37-mile proposed site.

"Usually we have a situation where towns come to us and want to build a trail and then they will maintain it. In this case the State is the one responsible for the trail and towns aren't too excited about being responsible for maintenance," Brittnell said. "That's something we will need to look at going forward."

Some of the primary concerns raised by residents included lighting and noise pollution; access to rest room facilities; potential litter; and an increase in crime as a result of greater access to communities along the trails. Brittnell said the path would have limited, if any lighting, except for the possibility of low-level lighting or reflectors along the edge of the path.

Some residents were also concerned with the cost of the project and where funding would come from. However, Brittnell declined to give any cost estimates because he said the project was still in the early phases and a number of variables could impact costs.

Several more informational workshops are scheduled to take place over the next few months before DOT teams begin evaluating each area the path would travel through.

Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy contributed to this story.

bholbrook@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/bholbrooknews; 203-972-4407