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Better bridge design reunites Durham, NC


After more than 15 years of forced separation, the residents of Durham can finally cross a busy freeway with peace of mind. The R. Kelly Bryant Jr. Pedestrian Bridge was opened to the public on September 16, 2010, and Big R’s beautiful open-design bridge has allowed Durham residents to finally close the book on a longstanding grievance.

“It’s going to bring connectivity to two neighborhoods where there was none when the bridge was closed,” said Durham Mayor, Bill Bell.

Built in 1970, the Durham Freeway divided the city’s main residential and commercial areas, so non-motorists were glad the development project included construction of a pedestrian bridge. In 1995, residents watched with mixed emotions as city officials closed the pedestrian bridge, leaving them without a convenient connection between their homes and their workplaces.

Open bridge design eliminates past safety concerns

The original bridge had a flawed design that led to more problems than solutions. It was constructed with tall metal sides to ensure the safety of pedestrians. However, as years passed, the bridge began to rust, and the box-like design made the bridge dark and nearly soundproof. It became notorious as a hub for crime and, eventually, closing the bridge seemed like the only option.

“A lot of folks were disappointed when the bridge was removed. We are happy to see it reestablished and sitting here. Let’s take pride in this bridge and use it. Let us be proud of this bridge and the trail it connects. This bridge is a beautiful bridge,” said Mr. R. Kelly Bryant Jr., the lifetime Durham resident for whom the bridge was named.

When the Big R Bridge team was asked to manufacture a new pedestrian bridge over the Durham Freeway, we knew it would be a special project. The bridge took one month to construct, and one month to install and finish. 

Its clean design has been praised as ‘appealingly simple.’ It is comprised of a single arch, lined with integrated LED lights, and close-set rails that keep debris from escaping onto the roadway. A closer inspection of the bridge reveals even more.

“The abutments frame the bridge on either side and are an important aesthetic element of the design,” says Iona Thomas of Raleigh-based Stewart Engineering, which undertook the project. “We wanted to reference the iconic brick of downtown Durham. We kept coming back to the chimney stacks.”

After more than 15 years of waiting, the R. Kelly Bryant Jr. Pedestrian Bridge represents much more to the residents of Durham than simply a means of transportation. The new bridge is a gateway to the vibrant downtown core, but it also acts as a reminder of spirited people that founded the community.

Owner: City of Durham/NCDOT
Consultant: David Ruggles, PE-Stewart Engineering
Contractor: ST Wooten, Inc.

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