A Q&A With the Project Manager for the Continental Avenue Pedestrian Bridge

OK, let's circle around to the Continental Avenue bridge again. We must, if only because it's on the city council's agenda for Wednesday and because, on Friday, I had a long talk with Jim Parrish of CH2M Hill. Parrish is the Dallas-based project manager for the project, which will entail turning a vehicular bridge into a pedestrian park, and he knows more than anyone about what'll happen between now and, oh, November 2012, when the city hopes to open the park.

So, then. To the Q'ing and the A'ing.

I see on Wednesday the council is going to sign off on giving CH2M Hill around $1.3 million to move ahead with the project ...

Our total contract amount is $1.3 million, but a little less than a million is for the design, and the other $300,000 is for services during bidding and construction.

OK, then, speaking of design, I assume it's safe to say that rendering with the cowgirl -- and she looks like a Kilgore Rangerette -- was, well, wildly speculative.

They were early concepts used to give the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee ideas of what could be done with the bridge. But then they have gone ahead and shared some of their own ideas, and they feed that back to us, and we incorporate that that in the design.

So, then, what have you guys done with the council's suggestions?

Other than the work we showed to the committee in November, we have done nothing else other than prepare the scope of work. We've been on hold till the council gives approval to move forward, which should be Wednesday. And it takes them some time to give us notice to proceed, which is why we're not planning on beginning till February.

And what happens then?

The first thing we'll end up doing is meeting with key stakeholders with the city and whatever groups the city directs us to meet with to share idea of where we are going. Form there we'll create alternatives for different concepts, we settle in on one and begin the design. This bridge, because we're limited -- it's an existing bridge, and you're limited by width, breadth and height and load-bearing capacity -- we have to work within the context of what we have, and we need to meet the goals of the city and the Trinity Trust.

Given the limitations and the expectations, then, where do you begin?

One of the first things we'll do is, there was already a structural analysis by TxDOT, which does a biannual inspection. We're going to look at it, see if that structural analysis is adequate for our purposes. It may be what was done for vehicular traffic doesn't relate here, so
we have to look at it and do some visual inspection and concrete core samples in key locations and make sure it's adequate for our purposes and do our design based on that.

When you say "make sure it's adequate for our purposes," is there a chance this thing might not be good for people and a park?

No. Think about it. We already have traffic on it every day. What it will tell us, though, is where we can load the bridge differently. You may have areas for parties where you may want to have people closely together, and other areas where you decided to have more even distributed people on it, and there are ways to design the amenities so that can happen.

And then what happens, after the analysis?

Then we go forward with our design. Our landscape architect, WRT, will sort of do the creative part, very similar to the submittals to the Trinity committee. And we'll go ahead and start putting pencil to paper and laying down the framework for what it'll look like. There's a lot of detail that has to be done to put the appropriate pieces in the appropriate places.

That early conceptual rendering features a level above the park ...

We've modified it since then. We've gotten input that that's something they don't want to do. It'll be single-level. There may be some elevated areas, and when I say that, there may be things that may be mounted two, three feet from the bridge deck. But, no we won't do anything that's multilevel.

A few weeks ago, a council briefing suggested the High Line in New York may be a role model for the Continental Avenue bridge park. But that's a whole different beast -- a long path that winds through a concrete jungle. This is an elevated bridge over the Trinity River that doesn't really go from anywhere to anywhere, at least not a present and not by 2012.

The idea is to knit the downtown side and the Oak Cliff and West Dalls sides together  Our portion of the bridge, our focus, is the brideg itself and the downtown side. The CityDesign Studio [at City Hall, headed by Brent Brown] is working on the other end of the bridge, because the city has a lot going on over there with the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge coming down and a lot of connection things to be worked out. The city decided we were going to work with what they're doing, but our portion of that side is more input to them than us doing design. Our focus is the downtown side of the bride over to the West Dallas side.

You have a good idea of what this will look like, but, obviously, no concrete designs are in place -- those are about a year away. But let's say you're standing on the downtown side of the bridge looking toward the west. What, exactly, do you see?

What we're anticipating is, if you've been on the bridge before it has a 20-inch high sidewalk. It's a long step down, actually, between 14 and 20 inches in places. We intend to put a decking from sidewalk to sidewalk, so it'll be flush with the sidewalk. The way Ignacio Bunster, our lead architect, has it set up is there are bike and pedestrian areas on the right-hand side if you're looking toward Oak Cliff. They would be striped areas. We're not putting a vertical wall in there. He's big on having these things meander around, so will it be a straight shot? I suspect he will cause some variation to occur.

And in different places, as you move to the left-hand side, you'll see areas with trees in planters covered in earth. You'll see areas set up for some sort of performance stages and gathering areas. One of the things we have to do is make this as flexible as possible for the city. There are times when they'll want to do an art show, were you'll have temporary vendors or artists set up who need electricity coming out of the deck of the bridge. We'll have power coming up periodically. And there will be benches and places for people to gather. And there will be green spaces and more defined areas where people can gather and a juxtaposition of those areas along the way.