Bridges serve a unique function in architecture; they cross obstacles and connect. In Winston-Salem, there is much connecting to do — the city’s gain in procuring the first stretch of Business 40 to open in the state came at the cost of a thriving African-American neighborhood known as Belews Street.
“I-40 Business was very destructive when it came through in the 1950s,” says Martha Hartley, director of Moravian research at Old Salem Museums and Gardens. “Vibrant, healthy African-American communities were completely eradicated by the highway. There is still a deep wound from the way the highway development separated east Winston from downtown and erased these residential and commercial neighborhoods.”
So in 2005, when the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) announced its plans to rebuild the 1.2-mile section of Interstate 40 Business from west of Fourth Street to east of Church Street in downtown Winston-Salem, the wheels of public imagination immediately started turning — and many were inspired to right the wrongs of the past.
“The divided city has always been a concern, and we wanted to correct that,” says Kristin Haaf, a board member and past president of the public-private partnership known as the Creative Corridors Coalition.
City leaders, arts figures, elected officials, business people, and interested citizens by the thousands came to public informational meetings organized by the NCDOT. Some of those attendees coalesced into a new group, the Creative Corridors Coalition. Formed in 2011 as a nonprofit and comprised entirely of volunteers, the coalition has been working alongside the DOT to identify community priorities, raise private funds, and guide the process aesthetically.
“We knew the roadway rebuild was happening, and we said, ‘If this is going to happen anyway, let’s make it extraordinary,’” says Bill Davis, Creative Corridors Coalition chairman. “This is a once-in-a-generational opportunity to turn a routine DOT project into an economic, aesthetic, and social gain for the city. We want people who drive through to think, ‘This city really has something going for it.’”
The first of the coalition’s projects to be completed symbolically represents the city’s reunification: the Twin Arches at U.S. 52 and Research Parkway, the southern gateway to downtown. World-renowned bridge architect Donald MacDonald designed the non-structural arches based on the shapes that he saw on his visits to the city: arched Moravian doorways, the soaring canopy of oak trees, and the Wells Fargo building’s iconic dome. Roadway improvements around the arches include plants, better lighting, and brickwork. The arches span both sides of this interchange, and were lighted Jan. 30, 2018.
“That’s why this project was the first we chose to be completed — to put an asset in an area that hasn’t always been treated sensitively.”
The arches’ total cost was $1.65 million; the state DOT contributed $700,000, plus an additional $50,000 for landscaping. The private sector’s portion, funded through Creative Corridors, is $950,000.
Enhancements to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive will also improve the aesthetics and pedestrian experience along a major artery into the city, Davis says. Road widening, landscaping, improved lighting, better crosswalks, and other features to aid pedestrians, sidewalk improvements, and bus stops, all of which emerged as themes in the public meetings, are planned for the corridor.
This project will begin after Business 40 reopens and is projected to cost $3.25 million, $325,000 of which will be privately funded.
“This is another project that seeks to right the wrongs of the past,” Haaf says. “We wanted to improve the pedestrian route and connectivity in an area that has not always received the positive aspects of transportation planning.”
A public showcase
Artistically-designed infrastructure plays an important role in economic development and quality of life, according to Greta Lint of the NCDOT.
“The first goal was to make a newer, safer road,” says Lint. “The second goal was to make this project a showcase for Winston-Salem. The thinking was, ‘If we’re truly the City of Arts and Innovation, let’s present that so that everyone who works, plays, commutes, or drives through the city can see that the city leaders are forward-looking, the people care about the place they live, and that they’re able to work together on big projects.’”
Some aspects of the $99.2 million infrastructure project are driven by federally-mandated transportation laws and couldn’t be altered. Others, however, are more open to interpretation.
“We figured out, pretty quickly, to focus on the pedestrian bridges,” Haaf says. "Pedestrian bridges don’t have to conform to complicated traffic engineering rules, so they’re less expensive. They also have a greater impact at the pedestrian level, which is what the community really values.”
Nine vehicular bridges will be replaced within the project zone. A 10th bridge, at Green Street, will be rebuilt as a pedestrian bridge; an 11th, the new Strollway Land Bridge, reimagines a section of the existing Downtown Strollway as an elevated pedestrian park. The Spruce Street bridge has been demolished and won’t be rebuilt.
The Green Street Pedestrian Bridge will cross over Business 40 in its current location, connecting the BB&T Ballpark area with the West Salem neighborhood. Also designed by MacDonald, its contemporary look will feature soaring arches on either side of the bridge. This bridge is currently under construction and is slated to open by spring 2020 at a cost of $2.8 million, $2 million of which will come from private funds.
The Strollway Bridge surfaced as an important project because of its location and its pedestrian purpose, Davis says. At the coalition’s prompting, the NCDOT will allow the section of the Downtown Strollway that now passes under Business 40 to instead become a park-like bridge over the highway, with ornamental trees and plantings. Possibly the only urban land bridge in the nation, 12-foot-wide walkways will allow both pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The bridge’s total cost will be $1.4 million, $980,000 of which will come from private funding. The project is set to be completed in 2020.
“This landscaped bridge will be an important asset for our downtown environment,” Haaf says. “It will never take people out of the trees and shrubs.”
Acclaimed landscape architect Walter Hood, a North Carolina native, will design the bridge; he has also taken preliminary looks at a park planned for the bridge’s terminus outside Old Salem.
“It makes you feel good that these world-class designers want to be a part of our project,” Davis says of Hood and MacDonald. “It validates what we’re trying to do.”
The bridge at the new, large-scale Peters Creek Parkway interchange presents design challenges in the form of the federally-mandated sound wall to be placed along the bridge’s west side and across the top. Instead of brick, the coalition advocated for a tinted, transparent plastic as the sound wall’s material so that users won’t feel enclosed, Haaf says. The group has also worked with artist Larry Kirkland to explore public art and lighting concepts for the bridge.
A sculpture on each of the bridge’s four corners — possibly a deconstructed Moravian star — are among the options.
“Peters Creek is a very large vehicular and pedestrian bridge, so whatever we choose to make an impact must also be large,” Haaf says. “We want to signal to travelers headed west that they’re about to enter a special corridor.”
This bridge reopened in fall 2018; any post-construction “additions” will come later. This project’s final costs are yet to be determined.
Throughout the corridor, roadway enhancements will include landscaping, better lighting, sidewalks, brickwork on bridges and retaining walls, and enhanced railings on the bridges. The betterments’ total cost will be around $6.78 million; the private sector’s cost will be $107,400.
“This project is unique in the state, and people across the state are watching to see how it goes,” says Lint of the NCDOT.
“No other city in the state has a major interstate thoroughfare right through the downtown. The public-private partnership has been uniquely successful. The aesthetic element is unique.
“It’s going to be a pretty road.”