Faulconer Fast Tracks NC Highway 54 Bridge Project

Wed June 09, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Gwenyth Laird Pernie

In early 2004, the North Carolina Railroad Company (NCRR) began construction on a new $5.5 million double-track railroad bridge on highway 54 in the Research Triangle Park area of eastern Durham County, NC.

The NCRR oversees a 317-mi. rail corridor extending from the Port at Morehead City to Charlotte, NC. While the NCRR does not operate trains, it monitors the usage of the track for freight and passenger rail service. It uses revenues from Norfolk Southern to make improvements along the corridor to promote more efficient rail service and to enhance the economic goals of communities along the right of way.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) works with communities across the state to improve crossing safety, expand and enhance passenger train service and preserve endangered rail corridors for future use.

NCRR and NCDOT are working together to improve the efficiency, capacity and safety of the NCRR rail line. The Highway 54 bridge in eastern Durham is one such project aimed at fulfilling these goals.

According to Scott Saylor, president of NCRR, the new bridge will alleviate the traffic congestion on highway 54 as well as eliminate unsafe clearances caused by the aging, single-track structure.

“The original railroad bridge, built in 1927, was a single-track bridge over a busy two-lane highway with inadequate horizontal and vertical clearances,” Saylor said. “It became outdated as the Research Triangle Park grew into a world-class research center, attracting more than 50,000 people into the region daily.

“The bridge was a bottleneck,” he continued, “preventing road widening and vehicle traffic to flow underneath it.”

The new railroad bridge will be a double-track ballast decked through girder with a vertical clearance of 16 ft. and a horizontal opening of approximately 90 ft., allowing the road to be widened to five lanes with a pedestrian walkway and bike lane.

The additional siding is necessary for trains to pass one another safely and manage the increased right-of-way use that the regional rail transit will need. The bridge will have three spans of approximately 40 ft., 99 ft. and 37 ft., respectively, for a total length of 176 ft.

Saylor noted that extensive grading and excavation were required to construct the new bridge and the several miles of realigned track approaches.

“Construction has proceeded in phases due to its close proximity to the existing track and bridge,” he said.” When phase one is complete, rail traffic will be shifted from the existing track and bridge onto the new track and bridge. The existing track and bridge will then be removed, and phase two of the new bridge will then be constructed.

“Also, because of the proximity issue, we elected to use cast-in-place drilled shaft foundations so as to minimize the amount of temporary shoring required to stabilize the existing railroad embankment during phase one of construction,” Saylor said.

Faulconer Construction Company, Charlottesville VA, is the primary contractor on the project. DW Lyle is subcontracted to build the bridge and the NCDOT highway division is responsible for the highway widening and paving.

“North Carolina highway 54 is a major east-west thoroughfare providing access to major Research Triangle Park employers,” Saylor said. “It also provides direct access to a planned mixed-use development area that is a keystone of the park’s future growth.

“Replacing the old bridge with a double track will remove the bottleneck on the road below and increase capacity on the railroad,” he said, noting the only challenge to this project is keeping rail traffic moving over the bridge as construction progresses.

A nameplate designating the date and identifying the bridge as a NCRR property will be placed on the completed bridge. The estimated date of completion is November 2005.