Intolerable traffic congestion on Connecticut’s roadways is not a recent phenomenon. In the 1920s, as the popularity of automobiles increased, existing roads proved inadequate and frustrating to drivers. Connecticut resisted the idea of multiple-lane highways, even as neighboring Westchester County in New York State began building a modern parkway system in the 1920s. The potential for new highways to attract out-of-state sightseers was viewed as an intrusion on quiet New England.

As traffic problems worsened, a controlled-access highway seemed to be the only solution. In the early 1930s, plans for a parkway, designed with distinctive bridges and landscaping, was approved. In 1934, construction began on the Merritt Parkway as a federal Works Project Administration (W.P.A.) project.

The first section of the “Queen of Parkways,” between Greenwich and Norwalk, opened in July of 1938. The remaining stretch of the thirty-seven-mile route, including Fairfield’s hard-won “no exit zone” through Greenfield Hill, opened on September 2, 1940. Each of the original thirty-four bridges spanning the parkway was individually designed, contributing to its unique character, and making it an appealing route for travelers.

Commercial traffic was prohibited from the parkway, however, and truck accidents on Route 1 remained a serious problem. In the early 1950s, a Shore Line Thruway was proposed by the Connecticut Highway Department, but was opposed by advocates of an inland route less vulnerable to foreign attack.

During the Cold War years, the threat of attack to Connecticut’s shoreline infrastructure and towns was perceived to be real. Despite the fears, the Shore Line route won, and construction of the Connecticut Turnpike was underway in 1956.

To learn more about life in the 1920s in Fairfield, visit the new exhibition at the Fairfield Museum, “Flappers: Fashion & Freedom.” In addition, the Museum Shop is selling the book, “The Merritt Parkway: The Road That Shaped a Region,” by Laurie Heiss and Jill Smyth. Shop and museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Members and children under 5 are admitted free. For information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.

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1934

The year construction began on the Merritt Parkway.

1934

The year construction began on the Merritt Parkway.