Efforts to give the Scajaquada Expressway a more welcoming look are taking a major step forward with a redesign of the Grant Street Bridge.
In what is billed as a first for the state Department of Transportation, the faded, iron-railed bridge will be made over as a "gateway" to the Delaware Park and cultural corridor area.
After being torn down to the decking, the bridge will be rebuilt with an unusual decorative facade, featuring architectural details in a style evocative of Frank Lloyd Wright. The redesign also will accent medallions symbolizing Frederick Law Olmsted's local parks legacy.
The new bridge's "faces" also will give the span an arched look while serving to hide what is now a free-standing City of Buffalo water line that hangs over the expressway, just west of the bridge. The water line will be relocated to run directly beneath the span as part of the project.
"It certainly looks beautiful on paper," said Robert E. O'Connor, the DOT's regional construction engineer. "It's something we're talking about doing regionwide. While bridges and roadways are part of basic transportation infrastructure, that doesn't mean they can't be something special."
The $4.3 million project, expected to get under way in the next few weeks, is also unusual in the materials that will be used. The upper portion of the decorative bridge facade will be fashioned out of concrete aggregate, while the lower sections will be fabricated from a light but strong composite-coated Styrofoam.
"It's the same materials that were used to create the Buffalo and hockey figurines on the front of the HSBC Arena. This is still somewhat of an experiment, but we believe the facade will hold up just fine," O'Connor said.
Former Buffalo-area sculptor Larry W. Griffis III, who created the arena's decorative elements, will be molding the series of 25-foot-long bridge face panels and the huge bronze medallions in his Rhode Island studio as part of the project.
"I'm really excited about being involved in this," Griffis said. "Sculptors are like inventors in how we have to adapt our talents to new mediums and new materials. And I like the idea of engineers and artists working together. It's a new challenge for both of us."
Griffis said he is impressed by the DOT's quest to improve the aesthetic quality of their infrastructure.
"I think we've gotten used to a lot of things that aren't pleasing to the eye.
The DOT has made a conscious decision to do a better job," the artist said.
Plans to overhaul the bridge are getting high marks from the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which has worked with the DOT and community groups on the design.
"I think the design is perfect for an Olmsted setting and it really works as a gateway to the Olmsted park system," said Laura Fulton, the conservancy's manager of community resources. "We're especially happy with the tree designs for the medallions. It's a very nice touch."
The state bridge project is one of many upgrades planned for the Scajaquada, which cuts across North Buffalo between the Kensington Expressway and the Niagara Thruway. Late last year, transportation planners opened a dialogue with area residents on a long-term goal of making the expressway a better fit with the neighborhood it intersects.
Those discussions have touched on a variety of ideas, including reduced speeds, enhanced landscaping, creation of a pedestrian/bike path and other improvements.
"The new bridge is a significant step in that direction," said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, an advocate of returning the corridor to its park roots.
The bridge work is scheduled for completion in 2004. The span will be open to vehicular traffic with intermittent lane restrictions while the renovations take place.