By DAVID BORAKS
When Exit 28 in Cornelius is rebuilt next year to improve traffic flow, the interchange also will get a big aesthetic makeover, too. Architects for the town unveiled a nautical-themed design this week that calls for decorative bridge abutments, lighting and a signature mast-and-cable feature that looks like a sailboat.
Ratio Architects of Raleigh came up with the concept and delivered it Monday to Cornelius commissioners, who appeared unanimous in favor of the design. Commissioners also liked the project’s revised price tag – closer to $1 million than the $4 million the firm suggested in July.
The N.C. Department of Transportation is in the midst of planning a $3.5 million overhaul to the Exit 28 interchange, which could happen in 2013-14.
The interchange, at I-77 and Catawba Avenue, will be converted to a what’s called a “diverging diamond interchange,” or DDI, to improve traffic flow and safety. In that design, the two directions of traffic on the overpass will cross over one another to the opposite side of the bridge at the freeway. That will prevent cars from from having to turn left across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic onto the highway. And it will allow cars to enter and exit the highway more smoothly. The new ramp design also could make drivers’ wait time five times shorter, officials say.
With the DOT project drawing closer, town officials last year hired consultants to come up with suggestions to improve the appearance of the interchange, which they see as a gateway to Cornelius.
The design includes decorative bridge abutments, lighting, trees and other plantings, 5-foot lanterns at four corners, a central pedestrian walkway on the bridge, and the most striking element: a pair of mast arms with cables to suggest sailboat masts and sails. There’s even a space on the bridge abutment that could include include the town name in some kind of public art project, according to Ratio’s Jesse Green, who showed the plans Monday night.
Mr. Greene said the firm tried to learn all it could about the town as it designed the aesthetic enhancements. The design includes lights to show off the structure at night.
“Lighting is going to be very crucial,” he said. “It’s an important part of the design. At night time we want to cast lights up on the cable, up on the masts.” The design includes a “spot of light” on top of each mast, as on a sailboat. Spotlights also would highlight the masonry on the bridge sides.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Commissioner Dave Gilroy said at Monday’s meeting.
Ratio Architects gave a preliminary estimate of about $992,400 for the basic work to decorate the bridge. That does not include the cost of final design and construction documents, which would allow the town to seek bids. But it’s still considerably lower than the $4 million estimate for a previous design the consultants proposed in July. At that time, Mayor Jeff Tarte said, “We may have champagne taste and a beer budget.”
The architects also suggest another $176,000 in optional add-ons to the design, including painting, granite instead of pre-cast concrete in some decorations, and a stamped design on a wall bordering the central pedestrian walkway.
These “enhancements” are on top of the structural cost of the bridge, and would be paid for by the town, likely in the fiscal 2014 budget, town officials said.
Commissioners on Monday authorized the town manager to seek an architecture firm to come up with construction plans. The town hopes to put the project out to bid next August, either as part of the DOT project, or simultaneously as a separate project, Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant said.
Construction is scheduled to begin late next year and could take 12-18 months, according to Mr. Grant.
RELATED COVERAGE AND DOCUMENTS
Download the full presentation by Ratio Architects (PDF)
See previous coverage of the Exit 28 project under the “DDI” tag