When it comes to building bridges, it might appear that good old concrete isn't good enough for Raleigh anymore. But appearances are misleading.
Relax, taxpayer. That really isn't sandstone masonry supporting the nearly finished Glenwood Avenue bridge over Wade Avenue -- and the Reedy Creek Greenway bridge being built over the Interstate 440 Beltline.
It is concrete, formed and colored to resemble stone masonry. Even at eye level with Wade Avenue commuters who hurry beneath the Glenwood bridge every day, this fake stone looks like the real thing.
When they designed a $3 million replacement for the obsolescent Glenwood bridge, state Department of Transportation engineers wanted to build something that wouldn't look out of place in the old Raleigh neighborhood.
Instead of slapping a standard New Jersey barrier rail along the length of the bridge, they mimicked the rail of the original 1954 structure, with openings that look like church windows.
"I heard somebody refer to it as a Texas church rail," says Mitch D. Conner, a DOT engineer overseeing the Glenwood bridge work. "It helps to maintain the character of the old bridge."
The bridge should be finished in the next couple of weeks.
Two engineering changes should ease the way Glenwood and Wade traffic streams merge with each other.
A long acceleration lane beneath the bridge replaces an abrupt stop for Glenwood drivers as they enter eastbound Wade. And cars on northbound Glenwood no longer yield for drivers entering from westbound Wade. Instead, a new traffic signal there is designed to keep Glenwood moving without causing a backup on Wade.
But the most obvious change is the faux sandstone wall beneath Glenwood. It echoes the stonework featured on the Masonic Temple of Raleigh on Caswell Street, visible from the bridge. A neoprene rubber mold was placed inside the concrete forms to make the stony texture, and then the gray surface was tinted in warm shades of brown.
"I've had a lot of people ask me how we got 'that nice stonework' laid so quickly," Conner says.
DOT recently used the stonemasonry look for a few bridges and retaining walls in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The designers of a new bicycle-pedestrian bridge across the Beltline liked it, too.
The Beltline bridge near Wade Avenue is part of the Reedy Creek Greenway project to be finished by November. It is a 2.3-mile paved trail that will run from the Meredith College campus, under Wade, then over the Beltline and up through woods and meadows to the N.C. Museum of Art on Blue Ridge Road.
The project cost of $3.8 million is divided mostly between the $1.2 million paved trail and $2.5 million for two bridges: the 660-foot-long steel structure across the Beltline and a 70-foot timber bridge across House Creek just west of the Beltline.
Some motorists have expressed concern about the greenway project, wondering whether it is taking money from highway needs.
"It looks fancy to them, and they're thinking that North Carolina is still in tight budget times," says Tom Norman, who heads DOT's bicycle and pedestrian division.
But 80 percent of the tab comes from federal transportation funds available only for nonhighway uses. The city of Raleigh shared most of the rest of the cost with the state. Norman adds that the project would have been unaffordable without the right-of-way donated by the the college and the museum.
Adding the pretty, fake stone work increased the cost of concrete bridge supports by about 5 percent, he says.
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