By Jay Jones
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
A huge crowd gathered on a beautiful, sunny afternoon at the end of Lakeland Avenue last Thursday along with Durham Mayor Bill Bell, NC Board of Transportation member Charles Watts Jr., City Councilman J. Michael Woodard and R. Kelly Bryant Jr, to christen the opening of Durham’s “Gateway Bridge,” the R. Kelly Bryant, Jr. Pedestrian Bridge.
“It’s going to bring connectivity to two neighborhoods when there was none when the bridge was closed,” said Mayor Bell.
The original pedestrian bridge, built in 1973, was connected communities that were divided by the paving of the Durham Freeway in 1965.
In an effort to ensure the safety of pedestrians, the original bridge was constructed with tall metal sides so that the little kids crossing the bridge on their way to school wouldn’t be scared.
The bridge which became a hub for crime and vandalism was closed in 1995.
“The design results say ‘Durham’, from the brick and industrial symbols at both entrances to the big arches that frame the bridge itself,” said Charles Watts, Board of Transportation member. “It clearly will promote bicycle, pedestrian and transit modes of transportation, it will serve as a key connection for the growing trails and greenway systems of our city.”
“This is a part of history; it’s something that connects communities,” said Mayor Bell during the dedication ceremony. “More importantly, it’s named after a person that is very dear to this community and has a lot of history with it. R. Kelly Bryant is Durham, when you talk about Durham you talk about Kelly Bryant.”
R. Kelly Bryant moved to Durham in 1941 and immediately began fighting for equal job opportunities in downtown Durham, public housing problems, unequal representation on boards, and education.
One successful campaign included a selective boycott and Black Christmas parade. He is a lifelong member of the NAACP, a 37-year scout master and a board member of the Durham Business and Professional Chain.
“A lot of folks were disappointed when the bridge was removed. We are happy to see it reestablished and sitting here. Let’s take pride in this bridge and use it. Let us be proud of this bridge and the trail it connects. This bridge is a beautiful bridge,” said Mr. Bryant.
“This bridge is ‘Durham’s New Gateway’, it provides easier access to businesses, churches, the flea market, trails to downtown and golden belt,” remarked City Councilman J. Michael Woodard.
The removal of the old bridge and construction of the new bridge cost $2.2 million with 80 percent of the funding coming from the NC Department of Transportation and the remaining 20 percent coming from the city of Durham. Construction began in May of 2009 and finished in August of this year.
“I absolutely love it, I think it’s wonderful. It’s now part of my daily routine to cross the bridge when I walk my dog,” said Mark Ingram, a resident of Pettigrew Street.
“I think it’s a good thing to have open. I walked across it once and got scared; it was too high for me,” said Iris Hicks who lives on Lakeland Avenue.
At night, the bridge is hard to miss as it is illuminated by blue light on the outside and bright yellow lights on the inside. The R. Kelly Bryant Bridge is located between the Alston Avenue exit and the Briggs Avenue exit of the Durham Freeway.