East grafitti bridge needs replacement

Buses whirl past as students sport pails of paint, cans of spraypaint and paintbrushes, proclaiming in neon green "Party Friday, 10-2, at Shooters!" or "World AIDS Day" in candy-apple red. Whether raising social awareness or advertising party plans, the East Campus Bridge serves as graffiti billboard for the community.

However this University landmark will be overhauled in 2006, and the construction will prevent students from accessing their community calendar and talking post for as long as two years.

Drew Joyner, project engineer for Project Development and Environmental Analysis with the North Carolina Department Of Transportation, said the East Campus Bridge has been slated to be revamped for several years. NCDOT, which owns the bridge, periodically evaluates its bridges' condition. The East Campus Bridge, which was built in 1925, has shown signs of age and wear and tear, qualifying it for restoration under the Federal Bridge Replacement Program, which will pay 80 percent of the cost.

While NCDOT maintains control over the bridge reconstruction process, Joyner said that the department has coordinated with the University on several fronts to ensure minimal disruptions to student life.

"We'll have to have periodic closings on Campus Drive, but most of the time it should be ale to stay open," Joyner said. "There will be times when it has to close, and we will coordinate the schedule as best we can with the University."

Although the design of the new bridge has not yet been finalized, Joyner maintained that because of the University's historic status, it will be similar in style to the current structure. Additionally, part of the stone wall encircling East Campus will be removed during the construction process but will be replaced or restored.

"Because of the nature of Duke University, it is eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places, and because of that, we have to go back in and put the bridge back as close to the same [style] as possible," Joyner said.

Although students will bemoan the loss of their giant message board, there are benefits to replacing the bridge. The new bridge will be tall enough to accommodate emergency vehicles such as fire engines, which are unable to pass under the current bridge. Furthermore, Main Street--which runs across the bridge--will be widened to allow either additional pedestrian or automotive traffic.

Campus groups and students expressed a fondness for the bridge as important tool for visibility and one of the University's defining icons. Duke Student Government Vice President for Facilities and Athletics Alex Niejelow recalled the impact that the bridge had on his experience while visiting during high school.

"I definitely think that bridge painting has been a long part of the history of this campus," Niejelow said. "I remember visiting before freshman year and I remember seeing that bridge."

The bridge also has played an important part in the history of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community. In October of 1997, University maintenance employees whitewashed what they described as profane or vulgar language on the bridge after it was painted during National Coming Out Week by Gothic Queers, an LGBT student organization. Controversy erupted over the alleged discrimination but students still traditionally paint the bridge every Coming Out Week.

"The bridge has certainly played an important role in the LGBT Center and its groups' visibility," said Karen Krahulik, director of the LGBT Center. "It is a space on campus that must be traversed. Having the rainbow symbol up there or other LGBT symbols has been one of the most effective ways to let students see these programs exist or show their support for them."

Joyner said that although NCDOT policy prohibits paint on its bridges, the department will most likely continue to allow students at the University to decorate the new structure once construction is complete, upholding the bridge's status as a public forum. "The bridge provides a venue for groups who might otherwise seem invisible on campus," Krahulik said.


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