Bridge is still a sticky issue

Debate centers on its use by cars

Staff WriterAugust 11, 2006 

— For decades, the Apex Street bridge has spanned a gulf between the affluent Forest Hills neighborhood and the working-class St. Theresa community.

But the fate of the broken bridge has created a divide in the city.

The City Council heard from people on each side of the issue Thursday during a work session.

The officials were weighing whether to rebuild the damaged bridge so cars can once again travel between the two neighborhoods, an avenue that has been closed since 2001.

Forest Hills residents encouraged the officials to keep it a pedestrian-only bridge.

Council members did not vote Thursday. They plan to discuss the proposal in another work session Sept. 7 before a possible vote Sept. 18.

The bridge was closed to cars in 2001 because of structural weaknesses, city officials said.

The City Council at that time approved a proposal to rebuild the structure and lay down speed bumps in the two neighborhoods to discourage motorists from speeding along residential streets to cut through the city.

But the repair work was stalled, city officials said, because the state Department of Transportation did not have enough workers to dedicate to the project.

The bridge, to some, has become a symbol of divide between Durham's black and white communities.

Forest Hills, a predominantly white neighborhood, has argued against letting cars pass over the gulf to St. Theresa, a predominantly black neighborhood.

Residents of Forest Hills complain that the safety of neighborhood children would be compromised by cars flouting the 25 mph speed limit. St. Theresa residents have countered that the bridge is a convenience and that shutting out cars would further isolate the two parts of town.

"This whole process has been tainted, in my opinion," said City Council member Howard Clement, who voted in 2001 to rebuild the bridge. "An injustice is being perpetrated. If this bridge were in Hope Valley, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or ablythe@newsobserver.com.

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