Durham postpones ATT bridge opening

jwise@newsobserver.comOctober 7, 2013 

The American Tobacco Trail bridge completion has been delayed again – maybe until December – but the city is going ahead with its project celebration Saturday all the same.

According to city spokeswoman Amy Blalock, “We felt that having an outdoor event in the winter would not be ideal.”

Moreover, the celebration is being held in the The Streets at Southpoint parking lot, and an event there in December might inconvenience Christmas shoppers.

Manufacturing flaws in a safety fence are holding up the bridge completion, according to Public Works Director Marvin Williams.

Still, an associated section of the trail itself has just received its final touches and is ready for use.

“We felt that accomplishment should be celebrated,” Blalock said.

The celebration, minus the planned bridge ribbon-cutting, is being staged outside the Southpoint Cinemas, starting at 9 a.m. Plans were to cut the ribbon following dignitaries’ remarks.

The headline dignitary is to be Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, his presence pending on the federal government getting back to work in time, according to City Hall.

The city announced the Oct. 12 opening date in July, with the caution it was still tentative. In late August, word came that the date was set and festivities arranged, and in September, the city’s “CityLife” online and cable TV talk show was all about the bridge and its opening.

Last week, City Hall announced the latest setback.

“It’s hard to understand how something like this could happen,” said Merry Rabb, chairwoman of the Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission.

Unforeseen circumstances have plagued the project almost since the city put it on its wish list for the state Department of Transportation in 1999.

Before the fence problem, the most recent circumstance appeared in March, when engineers realized that one of the bridge’s support piers had been built two-and-a-half feet too high and had to be cut down to size.

That only capped a series of holdups and false starts due to bidding, re-bidding, design and redesign, city reorganization, inflating construction costs, state permitting protocols (including one for “air rights” above I-40) and so on, which have plagued the bridge project for more than a decade.

“Of course, we’re really disappointed about this latest delay,” Rabb said. “In addition to the trail celebration on the 12th there were a number of events planned for this fall that would have made use of the bridge.”

The 270-foot bicycle-pedestrian bridge, and the new 4.2-mile trail segment, connects the trailhead at N.C. 54 with the trail section running south from the Chatham County line. It is the last link missing in the 22-mile greenway, which runs from the American Tobacco complex in downtown Durham to N.C. 751 near New Hill, in Wake County’s southwest corner.

In 2000, the bridge was estimated to cost $650,000. According to the city statement, the bridge and trail segment are coming in now at $11 million.

“When the bridge is finally open,” said Rabb, “it’s going to be such a great addition to Durham and the entire region.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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