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City, project team provide ATT Phase E / I-40 bridge update

City officials and representatives from the American Tobacco Trail Phase E design team partners, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Steven Grover & Associates (SGA), provided an update in City Hall last night to over 80 residents eager to learn more about the long-delayed Phase E of the American Tobacco Trail.

Phase E will begin at NC 54 at the Southpoint Crossing shopping center, and will cross that busy highway at the existing traffic signal at Highgate/Rollingwood. A segment of trail will lead to the proposed I-40 ped/bike bridge, then along an existing segment of trail to the west of the Streets at Southpoint mall's Sears Auto Center. A pedestrian traffic signal will be added at Renaissance Parkway, and the trail will continue all the way south to the Chatham Co. line. Ed Venable from the City's engineering department confirmed that the trail will be asphalt all the way to Chatham Co., creating a small bit of muttering from the couple of equestrian fans who showed up; Chatham's segment is intended to provide both screened gravel for horses and an asphalt trail for bike travel. (Presumably peds get their choice.)

Here's a visual sense of the area under discussion, courtest Dan at campingfools.com; skip to the end of this post for more details/links to info on the project:

View Larger Map

In yesterday's post on the ATT meeting, a couple of commenters noted the question of whether it's worth the money for Durham to build a "signature" bridge design over I-40, instead of using a pre-fab, off-the-shelf design such as those used in Cary over US 1/64, or on the Lakewood/University and Roxboro crossings of the ATT in Durham already. This question was equally on the mind of a couple of residents, driven as much by whether such a strategy could speed up the long-suffering project as by cost savings.

The vast majority of the meeting touched on the kind of 'functional requirements' of citizens that play into these issues and into the ultimate design of the bridge complex. Steven Groves of his namesake firm spoke to the group for almost two hours, providing pictures of other bike/ped bridges throughout the country.

Grover claimed that the cost picture of these kinds of structures don't support an obvious, straightforward "pre-built is cheaper" rubric; he stressed that if a community's issues and concerns about the needs and uses of the bridge are understood up-front and the bridge structure is well-thought out, a custom structure can be significantly cheaper than off-the-shelf. Grover did note that the project team would look at both options.

Grover opened with an explication of why the design process matters for bridges such as this one, centering his argument on four key points: a bridge that the community is proud of and which is designed to draw bike/ped users encourages the structure's appropriate use and discourages abuse/crime; upfront public input that this phase is critical to the design and structure being successful; this bridge will be the most visible element of the 20+ mile length of the ATT; and it's a multi-million dollar project whether an off-the-shelf or custom design is used, so the City needs to get it right.

A slideshow ensued showing a wide range of successful and, arguably, unsuccessful bike/ped bridges around the country. Bridges like this one face a design challenge in trying to meet two often conflictual goals. That is, bike/ped bridges should be as transparent/open as possible to provide visibility and safety for users, and to avoid creating a "tunnel effect" that makes it unwelcoming and discourages use -- but at the same time, highway design principles require such bridges to be 'missile-proof' from the perspective of preventing miscreants from easily throwing objects, or themselves, off the bridge structure.

Grover directly addressed and criticized the Cary US 1/64 bridge, for instance, by noting that the design combines these two goals in an incoherent way. An off-the-shelf, open-truss, inviting structure is directly in conflict with a vertical-plane chainlink fence that makes the overall design confused and makes the bridge, in his view, less successful.

One of the most significant suggestions Grover made in the meeting (again, seeking public feedback) is the recommendation to move the location of the I-40 bike/ped bridge slightly east, closer to the Fayetteville Rd. highway overpass. Though initially the bridge was intended to cross I-40 at the point where the existing Southpoint trail segment passes to the west side of the mall, Grover argues for making the crossing further east, closer to the mall itself.

Ramps The consultant demonstrated the biggest advantage of such a change with a topographical cross-section, noting that at the suggested new crossing point, the ground on both sides of I-40 is both naturally elevated above the highway and, importantly, is at a roughly equivalent height on both north and south ends of the freeway. Installing the bridge here, if the recommendation is accepted, would significantly reduce or eliminate the need for "ramping," or meandering ramps that lead up to a bridge that is much higher or lower than the trail's grade (see picture at right). Besides adding cost to the project, ramps also make bike/ped bridges feel less accessible and user-friendly, discouraging use.

Grover also noted that this bridge and trail segment seems likely to draw a range of uses, from bike commuters to dog-walkers to joggers to families and youth trying to get to the mall. To that end, he asked the audience for feedback on whether mall access would be a significant part of this bridge; Grover thought it would, and suggested that a more easterly crossing could allow access to both the ATT and quick access to the Southpoint mall.

One other factor playing into the bridge and trail design? Usage, or more specifically, anticipated growth in usage. The project team pointed out that within a 2 mile radius of the bridge project, as many as 10,000 new homes may be built in the next few years; the trail creates an opportunity for familes to "leave their pockets of cul-de-sacs," as one resident put it, and connect to a linear park. Which also means significantly increased usage, and possibly bike/ped crowding on the bridge, something Grover wants the project to keep in mind.

A few project facts: Ed Venable from the City optimistically gave a timeframe that includes a design phase for the bridge through June 2008; a bidding phase to run July through December 2008; and construction running January 2009 through June 2010.

The stickler, as always, is money. $4.865 million will be available for the project through NCDOT as soon as an inter-agency agreement between the City and the state agency everyone loves to hate is completed. However, the City thinks as much as $1.5 million will be needed to complete the project. (It should be noted that that $6.3 million cost includes both the bridge and remaining Phase E trail segments; the guesstimate provided Tuesday night is that the cost allocation is 50/50 to each project, so we're not talking about a $6 million gilded crossing here.)

Venable notes that the City will look at outstanding bond money from other projects and to NCDOT itself as possible sources for the remainder of the funds; Durham is also looking through its transportation department at outside grant sources. A fallback is to re-approach through the city's CIP and bonds process to try to explicitly allocate more funds as needed.

No matter what, the project gets more expensive the longer it waits to be built -- with Bill Bussey from Triangle Rails-to-Trails claiming the cost of the project escalates $1,600 per day. Which makes getting the design right, and getting the darned project started, more important than ever before.


I've updated this post with Dan's Google Map (thanks again!).  Also of note, the City of Durham has posted PDFs of project maps and the survey distributed during the meeting on their web site; if you have survey feedback, please fill out the PDF survey and FAX or email it to the City contact listed on the form.


Will Elliott

I think we should keep in mind that over time millions of people will view this bridge. And we have an opportunity to leave that many positive (or negative) impressions of Durham. Spare no expense (not literally but you know what I mean) - and make this something we can all be proud of.

Daniel Schudel

A survey was provided at the meeting to solicit public input. I took the liberty of scanning it and posting it on my website. Please download it, fill it out, and submit it back to the city. Contact information for return is found at the bottom of the survey.

This is the URL to my scanned copy: http://public.campingfools.com/wiki/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=63

Tanner Lovelace

Excellent synopsis. I'd still like to know the answer to the question I asked last night, though, about just when we can expect (or hope?) to have the money from the DOT. Is that just around the corner or are there likely to be more delays?

One thing that really came out in the meeting last night, I think, is that the architect really seems like an artist, but also seems very practical. I came away feeling good about the design process, except for wanting it to hurry up and get done as soon as possible!

Bill Bussey

Hi Tanner,

To answer your question, they DO have the money from DOT. See the City's Capital Improvement Projects website for the details.

These funds are mostly federal funds, including an earmark from Congressman Price, that is being funneled by DOT. There is a relatively small chunk from the Lexus dealership near the bridge site that the city obtained to allow for him to build his dealership as he wanted.

According to the dealer's lawyer, whom I sat next to last night, the dealer offered to "build the entire bridge", as long as he could choose the architect, several years back, but Durham and DOT would not allow it.

I'm not sure why they didn't answer your question last night. Durham staff told us the reason for the delay on getting this project moving is because they couldn't get an exact amount they had to work with from DOT. That had to go through the Transportation Planning and ranking process in the MPO.

We were told they couldn't start planning or design on this bridge until they knew the exact amount they had, even though there were some funds available (the dealer's) and they had a good idea of what would be forthcoming from discussions with the NCDOT.

We found this out because of the petition. Thanks to all who participated in that.

As we found out last night, they still don't know exactly how much they will have because they want more. But they have at least a good idea! ;-)

Ain't bureaucracy grand!

Again, on the size of the project they gave figures for last night, inflation causes it to rise $1282 per day!

If they don't start construction on this project for say 700 days - which is reasonable based on their timeline given last night - it will cost an additional $898K, which is half of the additional amount they are seeking!

So I agree with you that they need to keep moving on this. $1282 per day would pay for a lot of staff and lawyer time!

Thanks to all who attended the meeting last night. If you weren't able to attend the meeting, check out the link on this blog to the questionnaire that they handed out last night.

Happy Trails,

Bill B.


Thanks for the rundown on the meeting. I wanted to go but wasn't able. I appreciate the summary!


Thanks for the great summary of last night's meeting. I agree with Tanner, Steven Grover seemed to get it. I was really happy to hear his comments.

Daniel, thanks for scanning and uploading the survey. It is also available now on the city website. I've included a link to it, as well as to Steven Grover's website and portfolio at BingsHaus.org.

Lastly, t'was a pleasure riding in on the bike bus last night. Its always great to put faces with names! We should do the same for the next meeting as well.



I already made a comment about this earlier yesterday before the meeting so I will copy and paste my thoughts on that post...

I myself like the idea of having a uniquely architectured bridge over 40...I think it will create character to an area that has alot of positives in South Durham...I like the one in Raleigh myself and love the looks of it at night...I think it will hopefully encourage people who don't typically ride bikes to do so just to check out the bridge...To those who've never been on the trail, it will create sort of an intrigue as to what the American Tobacco Trail is all about...

Dan Clever

The existing funds are held by DOT, but Durham won't have access to it until the municipal agreement is signed by both. I understand that the agreement is ready, and that city council will review it soon. Then it goes to NCDOT for signature. We'll need to keep an eye on it and make sure it moves along.

One person last night asked about the bridges in Chatham. The trail in Chatham has already been designed, and bidding and construction on the trail/bridges is supposed to start next year.

Robbie Foust

Wish I could have attended the meeting! I'll definitely fill out the survey.

(Hi Dan S.! Haven't talked to you in forever!) :-)

- Robbie

Philip Semanchuk

I was the one at the meeting last night who questioned whether or not it would be worthwhile to build a "signature" bridge (which is a nebulous term, as Mr. Grover pointed out) that's within 1/2 mile of the definitely-not-signature Fayetteville Rd. bridge. I wish I had been clearer -- I'm in favor of taking some extra money and time to make public works look sharp, but I'm unconvinced that it can be done in this context. We shall see and I hope to be pleasantly surprised. I came away from the meeting with a good feeling about Mr. Grover.

Dan, your map is great! Thank you!


Thanks for the excellent post and detail. I couldn't make the meeting but am a big ATT fan and regular trail user. I will fill out the survey and send in. I just want the bridge done--but considering *usage* in the design is critical. It would be a waste of several million to have it be inadequate right from the start. However, I don't care about aesthetics as seen by the I-40 drivers.


I still say that there should be a bridge over both NC54 and I-40. A bridge over 54 could go immediately west of the intersection with Fayetteville. Look at the grades there, it's totally doable without too much fill dirt.

I say, value engineer the bridge over I-40 to be as inexpensive as possible, and use the extra money to build a bridge over 54.


Equestrian fans will not be the only ones grumbling about the choice of asphalt. As it stands, the Wake County portion of the ATT is a runner's jewel with its packed dirt surface. This is usable for everyone: runners, walkers, horses, mountain bikes...Perhaps as a cost-saving factor, packed dirt could be considered for unbuilt trail portions.


Bill B.,

I'm curious where the calculations come from to come up with the $1282/day inflationary costs mentioned?

As there is always the typical time associated with design, bid, and build phases of any major construction project, perhaps I have misunderstood or simply been ignorant to the previous delays up until now on this project?

Do you mean to say that each day construction has NOT started means that it's sapping this money AWAY from the $4.865 MM that has already been "earmarked" for this bridge?

It seems this would come from the $101K slated for the design phase, correct? Or perhaps this inflationary cost HAS, in fact, been accounted for and been incorporated into the additional funding sought (typically major capital projects account for inflation in conceptual budget estimates)?

Please clarify...


I realize this is a bit of a delayed response, but I just came across this article, then followed the link to the Durham Capital Improvement Project website (http://www.durhamnc.gov/cip/ProjectView.cfm?vAcctNo=292). I hope I am interpreting this incorrectly, but this status report from Feb 08 (cut-pasted below) indicates the design phase will run through 2Q 2010 (another 2 years!). Presumably bidding and construction will take another 18-24 months (into 2012). Please tell me I am mis-interpreting this info. Perhaps we can get an update from Mr. Venable and/or the TRTC board.

Latest Status Report: **(Feb/11/2008)
Project Phase: Design
Percent of Current Phase Complete: 15%
Major Activities This Period:
A contract to begin the community involvement and conceptual design process for the pedestrian bridge over I-40 has been awarded and work has commenced. The next public meeting will be held in 2008. A contract is being negotiated with Parsons Brinkerhoff for the design of the bridge.
Expected Date of Current Phase Completion: (qtr/year) 2/2010

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