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My Personal Nurburgring, The Merritt Parkway

Kamil Kaluski December 20, 2011 Featured, Redusernab Goes To... 67 Comments

The Nordschleife is a the 13-mile, 160-turn, widow-maker which Sir Jackie Steward nicknamed The Green Hell. A mere mention of this place can quickly raise a gearhead’s heart rate. Built in the 1920’s; it is still used today for sports car racing, predominantly the 24 Hours Nürburgring. Most of the time however, it is simply a public toll road accessible to anyone with a car, 22 Euro, and some courage.

In recent times the Nuerburgring has been a hot spot for automotive manufacturers. It has been said that if a car performs well there, it will perform very well everywhere else. Many manufacturers have opened test facilities near The Ring and some companies go as far as to post their vehicle’s time around The Ring right along other typical results such as the utterly useless 0-60mph. It gets better; when Nissan launched its GT-R, they went into a very public battle with Porsche as to whose car is faster! It got ugly!

What about us normal people? The ones with a job, family, and limited car funds? Shipping the GT3 RS, which we don’t actually have, to Germany is not exactly an option. Good luck convincing your wife that the Eifel Region of Germany is an exciting vacation spot. You can go there with a group of guys for a day and run the track in a rental or get on the Nuerburgring taxi, but otherwise that is pretty much it.

For the past ten years I have been doing a lot of driving between New York City and Boston. While that may not sound exactly exciting, I have covered this trip in probably forty different cars now, in all hours of day and night and in all kinds of weather. Part of my route goes over a road known as the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut.

First off, allow me to state that I am in no way comparing the Merritt to the Nuerburgring, because am I not. I am just stating some fundamental similarities between the two, and the fact that the Merritt is a damn fine road.

The Merritt Parkway is a four-lane road (two in each direction) stretching from Connecticut/New York state line to the Housatonic River in Stratford, Connecticut. Also known as Route 15, the Merritt was build in the 1930’s to alleviate the traffic on U.S. Route 1. Constructed as part of depression-era projects, it first opened on June 29, 1938.

The southbound Merritt starts at a tunnel...

It is almost thirty miles of twisty, hilly wooded roadway. Along the way, approximately ten miles apart, are small quaint rest stops; the coffee is awful by the way. Some of the most prominent features of the parkway are its bridges. Constructed to allow for an intersection-free route, no two of the many bridges are the same. Designed by architect George L. Dunkelberger, each bridge features a unique neo-classical design.

Having driven it so many times, I have learned how different cars behave on this road. I can do a fair comparison of the suspension set-up, brakes, and power between different cars. I will try to incorporate the impressions from driving on the Merritt into the cars that I review.

Similarities between the Merritt and the Nuerburgring :

  • Both are public roads.
  • Both are in a wooded setting.
  • Both feature interesting curves and elevation changes.
  • Both are fun to drive on.
  • Both were built in the beginning of 20th century.

When to Drive:

    • I strongly suggest driving at night, the later the better. No traffic, but you may encounter a random construction site and single lane closure. Don’t sweat it, those are not long and they keep the cops occupied.
    • In the day time hours the road is filled with investment banker’s trophy wives in the Range Rovers heading to the spa/mall/boyfriend’s house.
    • Avoid storms at any time. There have been a number of incidents where a tree has fallen over the Merritt shutting it down. At the very least you will be stuck in traffic.
    • Between 5am and 7am, much of west bound traffic consists Lincoln Town Cars, or more recently S-Class Benzitos, transporting wealthy bankers to Manhattan for their a 9am meetings. I am not making this up. These guys drive either relatively fast or extremely slow, nothing in between.
    • Best times: Weeknights from midnight until 3am is dead empty. Weekends from 3am to 6am, after NYC drunks got home.

...and it ends on the New York State line.

What to Drive:

  • Preferably by yourself in a sporty car.
  • Avoid more than one passenger; anyone sitting in the back may get sick.
  • On second thought, avoid passengers altogether if possible.
  • Have a good selection of tunes ready. You don’t really want to be fumbling with the stereo.
  • Driving a van or an SUV? Take I-95, you will only be in my way.
  • Driving with family? Take I-95, it is smoother and more comfortable.

Cop Situation:

The Merritt has a 55mph limit, with a few spots of 50mph. The good thing is that cops don’t have many places to hide. The bad news is that they don’t need to hide. Most of the time they do one of two things:

  • They are stopped on the shoulder after a curve, a hill, or a bridge. They are not even trying to hide. It’s rare, but if you come upon them, you’re just shit-out-of-luck.
  • They come up behind you. Connecticut state troopers know this road better than anyone. While they may not have the best cars, they don’t need to obey speed limits. Even if they come upon a slower car, the slow car gets out of their way. I have seen these guys move at well over 100mph.

How not to get a ticket:

  • Obviously keep an eye out for gray Crown Vics. They are either unmarked or partially marked, i.e. no roof lights. Occasionally there will be a Ford Explorer in the same ugly gray color. Chances are that there is a higher ranking cop is driving that. Good luck.
  • Count! Along the approximate length of 30 miles of the Merritt, I believe that there are no more than six state troopers on at the same time at night. Take this with a grain of salt please.
  • I have never seen a cop within five miles past a construction zone. The construction zones are usually 30mph zones, and once you get past that, it is like the leash breaking for a dog.
  • Don’t be stupid. This road is fully enjoyable driving at 75mph. Yes, you can go faster but the risk of a ticket or accident goes up significantly. You’re there to enjoy yourself not set the fastest time.
  • Chances are that a cop won’t even stop you if you’re within 20mph of the limit. They know what the average speed is and they are really going for the big speeders or dangerous drivers.
  • If the bacon does not get you, the venison may. I have seen deer along the road many times, horn is your friend.
  • Looks like funstuffs!

    I used to have some fun roads living up in the mountains of New Mexico. I consider myself lucky to have Texas hill country right outside of Austin, but, sadly, so is everyone else. Those 2 lane roads often get more congested than the interstate.

    The Cobra club of Central Texas was out and about once while I was riding the Monster. They were just puttering about, and I was forced to blow past them at extra-legal speeds. Funnily enough, the v-twin and pipes sounded muted compared to the Cobras motors. It was pretty awesome.

  • Gotta love those old parkways – and they really were parkways then. No big swaths of leveled trees and land, the road conforms to the contours better and makes for a far more interesting ride. Nice narrow shoulders enhance the feeling of speed. No intersections add a modicum of safety.

    Wish I had something like this near me. Love it!

  • Regan

    I love the Merritt. I live in Milford where the Merritt starts/becomes the Wilbur Cross. We usually compare it more to the Autobahn- everyone knows there's a speed limit, we just don't care. I think you're over-estimating the amount of police, however. Though I drive it different hours than you do. Making two or three trips up and down the road a month I can't remember ever seeing more than one cop per trip. Unless of course there's construction. Then you slow your butt down in a hurry.

    Hazards? Deer. Lots of deer. Also? There are no shoulders. If there isn't a guardrail immediately after the white line it's either trees or a small patch of grass *just* wide enough for a car that's usually a hill. Though occasionally there's a good size clearing.

    The fact that no two bridges are the same is probably one of it's most endearing aspects, outside of being fun to drive.

  • mallthus

    Also note that the Merritt was where that .

    My commute used to be part of the Merritt and part of the Wilbur Cross. I'll tell you that single most dangerous section, in my opinion, is right around the Route 7 interchange in Norwalk. Because there's a lot of exits and entrances there, you've got a lot of people slowing to exit, read the signs, etc.

  • The late 80's in the UK meant the beginning of Rave Culture, the zenith of the "Fast Ford", and the opening of the M25 London Orbital motorway. This is a 117 mile loop around the outskirts of the capital, you can drive right around having only to pause at Dartford, to pay the toll in order to cross the Thames.

    <img src="; width="400/">

    Of course, pretty soon after it was opened, drivers realised that they could race each other around it. Every Friday night, at a time late enough that regular traffic had subsided, dozens of Sierra Cosworths, Rover Vitesses, Carlton GSIs and M3s, usually hopped up a little (or in the case of the Cosworths, a lot) would congregate at Thurrock services before starting their 117 mile race. They called it The Orbital Club. Of course, this has all passed into mythology now.

    Fun was eradicated from our motorway network somewhere around 1994. The major routes are now clogged with Mercedes Sprinter vans all doing 90, and Big Brother policing making your license wilt if you even consider stepping over the line. Fortunately, I live right in the middle of one of the best parts of the UK for interesting back-roads. My route in to work every day is a festival of straights, kinks, chicanes and sweepers. There's nothing like pushing the envelope before getting into work and posting it instead.

    • SSurfer321

      Looks like Lexington, KY

      <img src=";, width=500>

      I love that as soon as I am out of the city, I am in the hills. A little longer drive (45 miles) and I am in the mountains.

      • But you're still in Kentucky. 😛

        • SSurfer321

          😛 Yeah but I live in the 2nd largest city in the state. I steer clear of getting too far out of town. If I hear banjo's I run. And it's a lot better here than where we were (Toledo, OH).

      • If everbody drives really badly, is it a Kentucky Derby?

      • Those aren't mountains.

        These are mountains…
        <img src=";

        This loop is awesome and close enough to downtown to do on a lunch break:
        <img src=";

        • jeepjeff

          Oh, dude. SLC is so beautiful. You've been down Highway 6, right? South on I-15 to Provo and head South East on 6 (the other direction might be just as good, but I was heading to Moab). Such an amazing stretch of road. Canyon carving in real canyons. For hours.

          If I've ever got time to kill in SLC, I'll have to try that loop. It looks excellent.

          • Oh yes, many times. I lived in Moab for a while too, and there are some spectacular roads in southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado. So much so, I've contemplated writing a book on the subject.

            • jeepjeff

              I'd buy it. I've got an item on my bucket list to road trip out to Utah and Colorado with a better vehicle for the trip (I was in my Father-in-Law's Ford Aerostar, and highway 6 was still fun).

    • TurboBrick

      Back when I lived in Florida the county decided to do some "road calming" and install chicanes on one of the parkways. The old people slowed down, I sped up. Did you know that a '74 Swinger has a LOT of body roll when you try to do something like that?

      • You may not be suprised to hear that a '98 Sterling does too!

        • TurboBrick

          I am actually surprised. I did not know that they made Sterlings still in '98!

          • Yep,

            <img src="; width=300>

            Although the right-minded would say they probably shouldn't have been.

  • cheapthrills

    Repost! 🙂

    My house is 0.75 miles from the Merritt. The elusive clean run is total joy. However, 95% of the time it's two lanes of solid traffic going 65, dipping to 50 for every bend. This is the opposite of joy.

    Since you're usually a "pass through" driver, I guess you don't have much experience with the on ramps, so allow me to elaborate on the subject. In short, they are woefully inadequate, and extremely dangerous and fun. Many of them simply have a stop sign at the entrance to the freeway. This means you need to accelerate from 0 to 65 before someone rear ends you. This also means that when travelling in the right lane, you need to be prepared to rapidly slow down to 30 for the mergers with no depth perception or sense of urgency. The reason for these short ramps is that this is one of the first highways in country, and since there weren't any highway designers, they used railroad engineers. Railroads don't have the constant traffic flow of a highway, and there are scheduled gaps between each train.

    • Repost indeed… but still new to many. 🙂

      • cheapthrills

        I don't blame you at all…I love this piece. I grew up in Boston, and the Merritt really breaks up the drive from Boston to New York vs. sticking to 90>84>91>95.

        Also, the corners on the Hutchinson River Parkway, which the Merritt leads into, are even better.

        • Yes, those curves and elevations changes are even more dramatic with one sharp-ish off camber curve.
          Somehow there is always more cars on that part however and it's possible to get stuck behind people even in the middle of the night.

  • danleym

    I'm jealous. Of the nice road and the snow. I've recently arrived in St. Louis, and have started to hear word of some good roads around, so I have some scoping out to do, but I don't know of anything worth just driving. I was in California last, and there were plenty of nice roads out there. That's about the only thing I miss about California…
    If you're ever in Santa Maria or Lompoc, go find Harris Grade Road. You won't be sorry.

    • The Central Coast has some of the best roads in the country. And no one knows… shhhh…

      My favorite is either See Canyon or Highway 229 south out of Creston (can't remember the name).

  • PotbellyJoe

    My Company has an office off of the Merritt. I never complain when I have a meeting there.

    We seven years ago when i was still in college, I would do runs and deliveries for dealerships. A few had trade-ins or returns. One of my luckiest days was a 911 cabriolet. So here I am coming back midday on the Merritt, barely old enough to drink, wearing a suit and driving a silver Porsche on a sunny October afternoon.

    Far better than swapping a green MR2 (Sequential manual) from Northern Vermont to NJ in a snow storm. Worst of all being the Sequoia I had to drive up there.

  • taborj

    I have many little roads that are fun to drive on, assuming you don't run into traffic. 99% of them are two lane backroads through the countryside.

    However, I've always thought it'd be sweet to be able to shut down the I-5N/I-84E/I-205S loop around Portland, OR. You could even add in the Hwy 217/Hwy 26/I-405N extension to add some miles and elevation, or simply put I-405N in the original loop.

    So many possibilities. I really should map these into a racing sim.

  • We need a crack team of hoons to travel this great land and find the best driving roads.

    Then, we need to work with the local governments to set those roads up like the Nurburgring with no speed limit and tolls.

    • JayP2112

      BF Buchanan Highway
      Tazewell to Marion VA
      Bring gasoline and brakes, leave cell phones (they don't work)

    • Indeed. There should be an app for that. Like Runkeeper, but for cars and motorbikes.

      • pj134

        … I wonder if we could just use runkeeper…

        • Whoa.

          • pj134

            Is that an Occam's Razor moment?

            • Totally. I think as long as you hooked up a heart-rate monitor, so you know when you had the most fun, it would work great.

              • pj134

                Might have to disable any kind of speed monitoring so as not to incriminate ourselves.

                • No officer, I am just a really, really fast runner.

  • JayP2112

    I have/had a loop around the area I grew up. It's about 13 miles, elevation changes, camber all over the place and even though there are stop signs they aren't killers. I'd test parts on the autox MGB on this loop. It was fantastic.

    Many of the roads have been graded and straightened. 🙁

    (Right click to embiggen)
    <img src="; width="400">

  • PotbellyJoe

    Also, PA 32 North out of New Hope PA, turning to PA 611 near Upper Black Eddy, and continuing on to Easton is fun little run too.

    • pj134

      Yes, I was going to post it but couldn't think of the right way to word its magnificence. As long as you don't get bacon'd or deer'd, it's a great drive, although it is cool from the very bottom too. 29 isn't bad, but the road is kind of neglected and you don't get the same views.

      • Socialvegetable

        Long time no see. I didn't stalk your gawker profile, but have you fled that scene completely. Are you on Google + by any chance?

        • pj134

          Yeah, I was drifting over in this direction more and more often. Eventually I just stopped going there entirely and haven't really found myself wanting anything. Nope, not on Google+, but I'm here just about every day. You'll see a lot of other familiar faces (avatars?) here, too.

    • Socialvegetable

      I LOVE that drive. My wife's family lives in Easton, and I have many clencher memories of driving my '87 Firebird along that route when we were dating. Blizzards, fog, you name it. Where we live now, taking 611 is waaay out of the way, so we take 309. I despise 309.

      • PotbellyJoe

        Good man.

        Good to see you over here.

        • Socialvegetable

          That's right, I haven't seen/heard from you in a while, either. I've been stuck on G+ with only some Jalopnik lurking for a while. I lurk here too occasionally, but never comment. Guess I'll have to start.

          Also, I didn't realize you were a SEPA local. Maybe I knew that at one point, not sure.

          • PotbellyJoe

            I live in Jersey, but I used to date a girl in the Lambertville area, so I became very familiar with New Hope and such.

            • Socialvegetable

              Ah, ok. Talking about New Hope/Lambertville has reminded me that I need to get to Triumph and leave with a growler or two of fresh brew.

      • pj134

        There are parts of 309 I like. The parts that there are no cops on between Montgomeryville and Quakertown. That road can get a bit ludicrous there.

        River Road is an awesome drive though.

        • Socialvegetable

          Really I see cops there ALL the time. Recently, I have seen them hiding off the road and checking speeds from that one overpass closer to Quakertown. I hate that stretch of road. I got nabbed for doing 70 in a 55 on 309 last January, when I was the only car on the road. State trooper. He definitely could have given me a break for that, but alas, I was no so lucky.

          • pj134

            Maybe I just travel it at the right times when I'm (infrequently) on it. Although, the last time I was on it the truck in front of me had a bookcase on it. Said book case decided it was time to disintegrate as I was following him. In the rain. Bastard.

            Anyway, it is definitely good to see you here.

            • Socialvegetable

              I live in Souderton and work in Malvern (which I think I've mentioned before). When our daughter was born I'd just pulled into the parking lot at work, when my wife called and said it was time to GTF to the hospital…in Allentown. This was immediately after hurricane Irene, so the highways were jammed, and I took 29-113-309. My car smelled like burning as I tore up 309 in record (for me) speeds. I had hoped that "my wife is in labor" would get me off the hook if I got pulled over, but fortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to test it.

              So, after that, I think I've had all the fun I can on that road. Plus, the hills are a challenge for my sad little car.

              Glad I poked my head in on a whim. I wanted to ask you something or mention something to you in Oppo a week or two ago, but then I realized you'd been AWOL. I have no idea what it could have been.

              • pj134

                If you commute 309, I can see why you would hate it. I'm beginning to hate 313 between Buckingham and Newtown just because I commute by it. It is an awesome driving road. Weird how that happens.

  • alex

    The Merritt is a classic. Thanks

  • jeepjeff

    Northwoods is a six mile loop. The neighborhood has around 20% year-round occupancy (I think it's the lowest in the country), so it should be empty in the summer time. It's pretty empty in the winter time during the mid week. The curves are pretty gentle, but there are some good ones, and there are lots of elevation changes. Fun as hell with 6" of snow on it.

    • pj134

      Speaking of empty California, we should all get evo's and STI's and bomb the trails around California City.

      • jeepjeff

        I'm down.

        I've also never been to Death Valley. I am going to fix this deficiency next summer.

      • That is VERY high on my To Do list for Redusernab…

  • B72

    The Merritt isn't all that. There are some good turns in Greenwich, but they are usually clogged with SUV's driving conservatively. Traffic is usually heavy, and can be exceedingly brutal at times. Even when traffic is moderate the slow drivers seem to clump together and clog both lanes. You will clear one pack only to come up behind the next in 5 miles.

    There are some beautiful driving roads in the area though. If you stay off the major highways and away from the major cities, pretty much all of the roads are fun, curvy and scenic. My personal preference for hoonage is to find the twistiest local road I know, and attack. Ultimate speeds are low, but it's good fun.

  • Van_Sarockin

    The Merritt's nice, but it's generally not your quickest route. You also need to pay a great deal of attention. But it came in handy when I needed to drive up from NYC for an 8am meeting way out Cape Cod. Being two lanes, with very short, abrupt ramps, other traffic can be either a major nuisance or a near death experience. Lovely road, but a very bad place for an accident.

    The bridges over the road start out being very modern in theme and design, and progressively work back in time and design. Kind of an allegory for the rustic countryside, far removed from the bustle of modern civilization. I'd say your Nurburgring comparison is a bit far fetched, after all, it's only a public highway as a way for the State to get around a prohibition on building racetracks or private facilities. The Nurburgring was a jobs program, and also intended to boost tourism, so the WPA comparison is fair..

    You can tell your better half about the nearby scenic wonders of the Vulkaneifel, not to mention the spas, the food, the old towns and shopping. Hell, there's a full service (bad) hotel at the track. You're also pretty close to the Mosel and its vinyards. It's still a pretty sparse area economically, so prices tend to be fairly reasonable.

  • Slow Joe Crow

    Having grown up just over the border in New York, my evening high speed blast of choice was Route 22 (the Post Road) north of Kensico dam. This was a twisty two laner along the reservoir that was reached by running up the Bronx River Parkway. I als oused to do some high speed running on the neighboring Taconic Parkway when heading Upstate or going to the BMW motorcycle dealer in Thornwood. I'm sure things are slower and more crowded no than when I moved West in 1993.

  • topdeadcentre

    I love the Merritt, it's how I get from the Boston area down to NYC and points south. I-95 or I-91 through Connecticut is dull boring misery even at higher speeds. Give me the Wilbur Cross Parkway to the Merritt Parkway to the Hutchinson Parkway anyday.

    I really like that the bridges over and under the Parkway are of many different designs, with very few duplicates. A number of them are currently getting repair/restore work. Fancy stonework, sculptures, metal grillwork, Art Deco, Fake Medieval, all kids of styles.

    Real twisty drivers' favorite type roads are available more up into Western Mass, Vermont and NH.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      Here in southwestern New Hampshire, we have our share of brilliant roads. Sadly, many of them are pockmarked by frost heaves, but in a car set up with essentially-stock suspension and with a bit of sidewall on your tires, you'll be fine if you account for bump steer as necessary and avoid the largest offenders.

      One trip that stands out: from my hometown to Milford/Nashua/Manchester/other points east. There are countless others as well; this happens to be a series of two-lane rural roads, sparsely policed and scarcely travelled at night, with sweeping curves and hills.

  • scroggzilla

    I currently live in West Virginia (Please hold your jokes! I've heard them all and, to be honest, my WV jokes kick your WV jokes' butt). I take US119 to and from work daily. If the Nurburgring were maintained by the Afghanistani department of highways, it would be like US119.

    • B72

      West Virginia had some serious roads. I remember driving them in a full to the roof Crown Vic wagon about 20 years ago. Floor it to maintain the limit ip the hill, then wonder if you are going to smoke the brakes on the way down while you try to keep the speed low enough to navigate the turns. Repeat. Eventually I learned to slow down before the hill crested. Good times, and stunning views.

    • pj134

      I dont necessarily have any good WV jokes. I just insult a certain other, steel loving area of Pennsylvania by calling it Northern West Virginia. My mom, born in Pittsburgh, can't help but smirk and say it's true. That's about my only WV backhanded joke.

      I think topographically it's pretty similar to where I am, but our roads are quite kempt.

  • ptschett

    This is when I hate living in one of the . Not enough to want to move to a place with excessive population density, though.

    So, MN Highway 113 is my prime hooning destination when I can spare the 2.5 hours roundtrip to get there and back… (for reference, the lambda-shape in the top right corner is Lake Itasca, the beginning of the Mississippi.)
    <img src="; width="500">

    • EscortsForever

      A fellow Minnesotan I see 🙂
      I'm dead center of the southern edge of the state. If you're ever in southern WI on I-90, go to Wildcat Mountain State Park. The road right around the park (33) is spectacularly tight and twisty. Managed to kill the fuel pump in my (now traded) Towncow in one of the curves last summer(wait, so driving a curvaceous road while on fumes and a 167k fuel pump is a bad idea? who knew?). The rest of 33 heading towards La Crosse is pretty good too. Gonna be heading that way soon (rather not say the specific day just in case some one is watching 😉 ) in a bland sedan but I'm still hoping the roads are clear that day 😀

      • ptschett

        I'll have to keep that route in mind if I ever get down that way. I'm actually just on the other side of the Red River from MN, but MN has the better geography for having fun roads so it's where I go if I want to drive around curves.

        • EscortsForever

          Gotcha, all dem der lakes makes it hard to build dem straight nodak roads, eh?

  • granj

    taconic parkway- one of the most beautiful roads anywhere.. Hope it is not ruined…..


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