Nancy Savin, a member of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, said of historic roadways that "to widen [a] highway and destroy it is not the answer." What is needed, she said, is increased use of public transportation.
Jill Smyth, the conservancy's executive director who wrote the 14-page nomination that put the parkway on the Monument Fund's watch list, agreed. "It's a strange poster child for preservation, but it goes to show there's room for everything," Smyth said at a recent event to support the Merritt's preservation.
The gathering in a mall parking lot off Exit 53, near the Merritt Parkway Museum, drew scores of antique car aficionados who showed off vehicles in vogue during the parkway's early days.
When the parkway was built, it boasted 69 bridges -- no two the same. At least three have been replaced, and several with more modern designs have been added. The Monuments Fund warned that more bridges could be affected if lanes were widened, shoulders added or other changes made. A nearly $67-million roadway safety and rehabilitation project is due to get underway before the end of the year.
"It's not changing the footprint or the look of the bridges," said Kevin Nursick of Connecticut's Department of Transportation, adding that every project on the Merritt, right down to tree removal, must be vetted by preservationists. "We do everything we can to ensure the work we're doing is sensitive to the parkway. About the only thing we don't discuss with stakeholders is how to mow the grass."
According to officials, most crashes on the Merritt, which Nursick said has an accident rate on par with other state thoroughfares, are caused by tailgating or speeding. Preservationists assert that many upgrades lead people to drive more quickly, because they feel more comfortable.
They also argue against the aesthetics of using modern guard walls that on some roads have replaced the original, solid stone barriers. On some parkways, what looks like a rock wall might be stone veneer covering a concrete core or concrete pressed to look like stone.
"There's a lack of integrity to that," said Don Bachman, an environmentalist in Bozeman, Mont., who has fought for restrictions on changes to the Beartooth Highway. "It's kind of a duping of the public to put these things up when they're just as modern as a new Prius."
On the Merritt, Nursick said, the state does all it can to please preservationists. But given the area's increased traffic, change is inevitable.
"If it was exactly the same as it was when it was built, it wouldn't be very safe," he said. "But given the changes that have taken place in this state, in this country, in this world, the Merritt Parkway essentially remains the same."