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Merritt Parkway Trail Raises Questions in Westport

WESTPORT, Conn. – Before Becky Kohl moved to Westport, she enjoyed walking 5 miles a day along a trail at Minute Man National Historic Park in Massachusetts. But there aren’t many places she can do that in town, which is why she supports a trail system along the Merritt Parkway.

“I think it’s the best idea ever,” Kohl said of a 37.5-mile multiuse trail that would run along the Merritt Parkway from Greenwich to Stratford. “There isn’t really a stretch of land I can walk 5 miles here, so I usually walk in circles.”

Kohl was one of about 20 people from Westport and surrounding towns who showed up for a public workshop hosted by the state Department of Transportation at Westport Police Headquarters on Tuesday night. Working in groups, the attendees compiled lists of concerns about the trail.

Questions about homeowner security and privacy were among concerns. Another top concern was over safety for trail users, who would at times have to cross other roadways.

One group, which included Westport Conservation Department Director Alicia Mozian, raised several issues, including having the trail cross the Saugatuck and Aspetuck rivers, wildlife and environmental impacts during construction, visual impacts of fencing separating trails from homes, and noise pollution from tree clearing.

Residents also compiled a list of possible benefits. Because the trail would be used by walkers, joggers, bicyclists and even equestrians, it would encourage people to get outside. As a result, there’s a health benefit. It could also boost home values in town and help cut the carbon footprint in Fairfield County if people used it as an alternative transportation route.

Larry Bradley, director of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Department, said the trail falls in line with the town’s 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development.

“I think it ties into the town’s goal of having a linear trailway for bikes and pedestrians up and down the Saugatuck River corridor,” he said.

During the workshop, William Britnell, principal engineer with the DOT, said there is no actual plan or design for a multiuse trail. Instead, because trail advocates have long expressed an interest in a trail along the parkway, the DOT is conducting a feasibility study.

The DOT, Britnell said, is neutral on the trail. The DOT is hosting three other public workshops in coming weeks. During the summer, Britnell said the department will come up with a conceptual design, which it would then present to each community impacted through a series of public meetings.

If the project comes to fruition, he said it would take at least 10 years to complete.

For more information about the study, visit www.ct.gov/dot/MerrittTrailStudy . Written questions or comments can be sent to William Britnell at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 317546, Newington, CT 06131-7546, or at William.Britnell@ct.gov .

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