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Rick Moody's Merritt Parkway

October 27, 2009 |  9:03 am

Merrittparkway

The L.A. Times reports today on Connecticut's Merritt Parkway, one of 93 sites added this month to the World Monument Fund's watch list, alongside Machu Picchu in Peru, Shackelton's hut in Antarctica and Sarajevo City Hall. "They are as intentionally designed as the gardens of Versailles," Amy Freitag of the World Monuments Fund told The Times. "They just happen to be roadways."

Although I've driven on the Merritt Parkway a few times, I hadn't given it much thought until I read Rick Moody's essay in "State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America." For Moody, who writes about Connecticut, the parkway was an essential part of his youth -- he even references people by their exit -- but he saw, last year, that it was threatened.

The Merritt, in all but a very few places, is never less than verdant, always quaint, always old-fashioned. It suggests a Connecticut of myth, a green and pleasant respite from the high velocity of city life. ...

Recently, however, the parallel 150 feet of green space that runs alongside the Merritt, procured back at the time of the original land acquisition, has come to the attention of the Department of Traffic planners, who'd love to get their hands on it in order to add some more lanes. The state is chipping away at every feature of the Merritt's original design. There's even legislation afoot to permit longer vehicles to drive on the Merritt, thus ending the passenger-cars-only rule that has been on the books since the parkway was first opened. What's to become of this beautiful and iconic roadway? And what becomes of the old idea of Connecticut if the Connecticut that was once visible from the parkway no longer exists?

In our article, reporter Tina Susman writes of the conflicting interests of commuters, preservationists and safety officials. Although the roadway has an accident rate on par with other state thoroughfares, a $67- million safety and rehabilitation project is set to begin before year's end. "Where federal officials see higher guard walls as protection for drivers skirting rivers, preservationists see them as blocking views," Susman writes. "Where federal officials see wider shoulders and lanes as safeguards against hitting trees, preservationists see them as destructive to the forest." And where a writer like Rick Moody sees the parkway, he re-imagines his past.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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