A $64 million project to improve safety on the Merritt Parkway, resurface the road and restore eroding historic concrete bridges will limit removal of the historic thoroughfare's much celebrated greenery, state engineers told residents this week.

As engineers proceed with plans to install a more modern steel-reinforced guide rail along the road's median, Michael Calabrese, an engineer and project manager on the work, said some trees may need to be sacrificed to meet safety standards.

"While we recognize it is important to preserve the Merritt Parkway, a historic roadway, it is equally important to note it is part of the national highway system and is a major thoroughfare," Calabrese said.

Calabrese and other engineers on the project, which is expected to be designed this summer, spoke to a small group of residents at an informational meeting Monday night at the Stamford Government Center, at 888 Washington Blvd.

Calabrese said that current plans for the project call for installing concrete barriers only beneath underpass bridges; helping to maintain the highway's rustic aura.

The project is part of a corridor improvement effort initiated in 1994 through the recommendations of the Merritt Parkway Working Group which called for roadway improvements to slow the increasing frequency of serious accidents as daily traffic on the road has grown.

Traffic counts on the Merritt Parkway have grown from 39,000 cars in 1980 to between 50,000 and 80,000 cars daily today, according to Calabrese.

The project will be put to bid in January 2013, and be completed in summer 2015, according to the DOT.

Jill Smyth, executive director for the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, said ongoing work in Fairfield and Trumbull has sparked questions from the group about the removal of specimen trees along the parkway in the interest of safety.

The group considers efforts to clean and refurbish the one-of-a-kind decorative adornments on the highway's overpass bridges has been highly successful, Smyth said.

"We hope there will be ribbons on the trees which will be coming down so people will know what is happening," Smyth said.

Calabrese said the installation of more and stronger guard rail is directly related to preventing collisions with trees along the road which have traditionally accounted for most accidents with fatalities.

Assistant New Canaan Fire Chief Jack Hennessey said the installation of more guard rail as a buffer between roadside trees and drivers could prevent deaths and severe injuries.

Hennessey said firefighters respond to several accidents a month on the parkway, including some that involve vehicles striking trees or breaking through guard rails into the path of traffic in the other direction.

"Many times on the right side of the road there is no guard rail and the cars end up in the woods," Hennessey said.

Written comments on the project must be postmarked by July 12 and should be sent to Timothy Wilson, Manager of Highway Design, Connecticut Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 317546, Newington, CT 06131-7546 or timothy.wilson@ct.gov.

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