Two new bridges being built along Capital Boulevard just north of downtown Raleigh will be wider, easier to navigate and friendlier to pedestrians.
They’ll also be works of art.
The spans and abutment sidewalls of the Wade Avenue bridge over Capital and the Capital bridge over Peace Street will be covered with a steel grill designed by an artist based in suburban Seattle. Vicki Scuri’s work has appeared on all kinds of bridges, parking garages and other public works across the country, but this will be her first in the Triangle.
“It’s going to be a very impactful public project,” said Laurent de Comarmond, an architect who leads the Raleigh Public Art and Design Board. “People will see it and hopefully forget about all the inconvenience of construction.”
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The board gave its final approval for Scuri’s bridge designs this week after months of review and revisions.
The City of Raleigh has long worked to incorporate art into public projects. In 2009, the City Council required that 1/2 percent of the cost of city construction projects be devoted to public art, resulting in sculptures at the Buffalo Road Aquatic Center, the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and Fire Station 12, among other places. In 2016, the council increased the amount to 1 percent.
But in the case of the bridges, the idea for the art came from the N.C. State Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for the $36.9 million effort to remake a 1-mile stretch of Capital Boulevard at the north end of downtown. Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager, said NCDOT proposed including art on the two bridges after someone in the department saw a bridge bearing Scuri’s work in Arlington, Va.
The state is replacing the two bridges because of their age and outdated designs. The project includes realigning Capital Boulevard, adding sidewalks and a 10-foot grassy median, and reconfiguring the Peace Street interchange.
The state is covering most of the cost of the project, but the city is putting up money for accessories such as a greenway trail, street trees and the art. The city is paying Scuri $40,000 to design the bridge art and oversee its creation and has budgeted $880,000 for materials and installation, though that figure will go up because it didn’t include the late addition of the grillwork on the abutments.
Lamb said the city has set aside money for kiosks, planters and other art elements on street projects before, but the Capital Boulevard bridges are something new.
“This is the first time we’ve done something like this with a major street project where we’ve incorporated the art into the construction,” he said.
Scuri says she drew inspiration for the pattern in the cut metal panels from Raleigh’s oak trees and the nearby Pigeon House Branch Creek. The panels will create “curtains” on the abutment sidewalls and will run the length of the bridges, under the railings, between concrete medallions sculpted in the pattern of an abstract oak leaf. The pattern of the leaves on the panels will have a “flowing movement that suggests water,” Scuri says.
The steel and concrete behind the metal grills will be a contrasting rust color that helps the pattern stand out. At night, the grills will be backlit with LED lights.
Trained as a printmaker, Scuri got her start doing art on public works when she got involved with a transit project in downtown Seattle in 1985. A few years later, she received a patent for her formliners that created a tire tread pattern in the walls of a parking deck in Seattle. Since then, her firm, Vicki Scuri SiteWorks, has helped design art for numerous bridge, highway and transit projects, including the planned Walker Street Extension in downtown Cary that has been on hold for several years.
This week, contractors began placing girders for the new Peace Street bridge next to the old one. The work requires closing Peace Street, so it’s being done overnight, between midnight and 5 a.m. Meanwhile, work on the Wade Avenue bridge is farther along, and motorists can expect to be driving on the new structure by late spring or early summer.
For more information on the project, go to www.ncdot.gov/projects/CapitalBlvdBridges/.