Dr. Traffic

Public asks for, gets more aesthetics on light rail line

A trap plant is one of 17 patterns created for walls and bridges on the Lynx Blue Line Extension by artist Carolyn Braaksma of Denver, Colo.
A trap plant is one of 17 patterns created for walls and bridges on the Lynx Blue Line Extension by artist Carolyn Braaksma of Denver, Colo. Carolyn Braaksma

There’s already a noticeable difference between the north and south legs of Charlotte’s Lynx Blue Line light rail system.

Well, yes, the south line is up and running while the north line is still being built, but there’s something else.

Have you seen the artwork that covers the north line’s retaining walls and bridges? I’ve admired it while driving along Brevard Street in NoDa (the North Davidson Street arts district).

Decorations on the bridge under construction over University City Boulevard at North Tryon Street surely will catch your attention.

By the time the north line is completed, you’ll also see art-covered bridges at 36th Street, Craighead and Old Concord roads, University City and Harris boulevards, the Interstate 85 Connector Road, and at Toby Creek near the UNC Charlotte station, said Hillary Ryan, a spokeswoman for Charlotte Area Transit System.

Several bridges and walls on the south line lack that kind of visual appeal. At Woodlawn and Old Pineville Road, for example, the surfaces are a plain, stark gray with orange trim.

“It’s fair to say that the public wanted more aesthetically pleasing art on this project,” Ryan said.

Carolyn Braaksma of Denver, Colo., is creating the art for the first of the north line’s public art projects. Braaksma, who has been creating large-scale public art for more than 20 years, was commissioned to create public art for the south line in part because of her previous work with retaining walls and bridges.

Her designs for the north line focus on indigenous North Carolina plants, including pitcher plants, Venus flytraps and sundews.

Thirteen other artists also will contribute. The budget for public art for the $1.16 billion south line is approximately $4.9 million, Ryan said.

Braaksma, 64, was paid $66,500 to design art for about 4 miles of walls and bridges along the south line. She created 17 designs.

“Charlotte and North Carolina are real interesting compared to where I live,” Braaksma said. “It’s high desert here. Charlotte and North Carolina have a lot of insect-eating plants and a lot of orchids. Some of them I had never heard of. It doesn’t get more exotic than that for me.”

Through a $547,511 fabrication contract, Braaksma carved 17 prototypes by hand. The prototypes took more than a year to finish and range in sizes from 5 by 5 feet to 20 by 20 feet.

Braaksma hired a subcontractor to produce 17 negative and 17 positive molds that CATS general contractors will use to make concrete panels for 45 art walls.

I thought business owners on the south line might be a bit jealous of the north line’s ornamentation. Not John Ashley, general manager of McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon, which sits near the wall at Woodlawn and Old Pineville roads. He said he’s delighted with the traffic light rail has created.

“Sometimes less is more,” Ashley said.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms