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Merrit Parkway Conservancy and National Trust File Suit Against Federal Highway Administration To Downsize Massive Route 7 Interchange In Norwalk

Washington, D.C. (June 1, 2005) - The Merritt Parkway Conservancy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, together with the Norwalk Land Trust, the Norwalk Preservation Trust, and the Norwalk River Watershed Association, filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), seeking to downsize the massive new interchange project on the historic Merritt Parkway at Route 7 and Main Avenue in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Bulldozing began last week for the interchange project, which will destroy nearly a mile of mature landscaping along the Parkway in order to construct massive new elevated ramps that will loom as high as 36 feet alongside the Parkway. The project will also demolish two historic bridges, the Main Avenue and Glover Avenue Bridges. Construction is planned to last seven years.

"It isn't often that preservationists fight to save a highway, but this is no ordinary road," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. "The Merritt Parkway is one of the most cherished historic parkways in America. Its bridges are architectural masterpieces, and the landscaped setting of the Parkway is remarkably intact. The massive new interchange at Norwalk would be fundamentally inconsistent with that historic character and setting."

"This interchange was designed more than a decade ago for an obsolete project -- the extension of the Super 7 to the north," said Laurie Heiss, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy. "Even though the highway extension has been scrapped, this project was never downsized to reflect the fact that a full-blown interchange is simply no longer needed."

The Merritt Parkway Conservancy has been working actively for the past year to modify the project, even proposing alternative configurations for the interchange, but without success. "We've exhausted all other avenues. We know we're racing against the bulldozers now, but the Merritt Parkway is too important for us to sit back and accept this destruction," said Peter Malkin, co-chair of Merritt Parkway Conservancy. To view the filed suit please click here.

"This project is grossly out of scale with the historic road and would severely damage its distinctive character and setting," said Malkin. "To add insult to injury, it would cost close to $100 million - at a time when many of the Parkway's 66 remaining historic bridges are neglected and deteriorating and would restrict traffic on The Merritt Parkway to only one lane in each direction, with diversions over temporary bridges, for up to 15 hours a day for at least three years."

The lawsuit charges that the FHWA has violated a set of three federal laws that protect historic properties from harmful government projects. Specifically, the lawsuit outlines violations of:

  • Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, which requires "all possible planning to minimize harm" to historic properties (the Merritt Parkway and historic bridges);
  • The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires the evaluation of less harmful alternatives; and
  • Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which in this case requires under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that the interchange project be consistent with the Merritt Parkway Guidelines, Master Plan, and Bridge Restoration Guide, and requires accurate disclosure to the Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee of the project's adverse effects.
The Plaintiffs are asking for the redesign of the interchange to minimize impact on the historic road and landscape. Winding through 37.5 scenic miles of Connecticut's Fairfield County, the Merritt Parkway is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is designated a National Scenic Byway and State Scenic Road. Built between 1938 and 1940, the parkway was originally graced with 69 ornamental bridges and more than 70,000 trees and shrubs. Over the decades, as commuter volume has increased, the Merritt has been modified in an effort to make it conform to highway design standards. While some of these modifications have been done sensitively, others have left permanent scars on the historic road - like the scar that would result from construction of a massive new interchange at Route 7 in Norwalk.

The Merritt Parkway Conservancy is a non-profit membership organization celebrating the scenic, cultural and environmental assets of the remarkable Merritt Parkway. Through education, advocacy and in the spirit of partnership we work to protect, preserve and enhance this historic road. Board members represent the towns and cities along the parkway or bring special expertise to the Conservancy and the Parkway.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust was founded in 1949 and provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize communities. Its Washington, DC headquarters staff, six regional offices and 26 historic sites work with the Trust's 270,000 members and thousands of local community groups in all 50 states. For more information, visit the Trust's web site at http://www.nationaltrust.org

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