Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Touring the Bypass

This weekend my sons and I took a first trip on the new U.S. 64 bypass around Knightdale. I spent a couple of months working on a project at the Milburnie substation, smack in the middle of the bypassed section of "Old 64", and I can testify there was no joy coming or going during rush hour traffic.

Still, I think the new bypass will always be connected with the day I put my hand on a 500,000 - volt power line.

Of course the power was off, or I would have ended up like a six-foot pork rind in a blue shirt. Progress Energy had to relocate a steel lattice transmission tower farther back (and higher above) the new road's right of way, and in the neatest piece of construction work I've ever watched, the crew unbolted the base of the tower, lifted it sixty feet in the air, and landed it on a new base a hundred fifty feet up the line. Six of the nine cables were lowered to the ground (the other triplet was inaccessible, routed through the center of the tower), which gave me the creepy opportunity to lay hands on a once- and soon-to-be very high energy cable. Power lines aren't insulated, you know, just bundles of bare aluminum and steel.

This tower is on the north side of the new highway just west of Smithfield Road, at exit 425 .

There are some other points of interest along the Triangle's newest highway. The environmental walls transition from "North Raleigh brick" close to the Beltline, to a more utilitarian concrete-with-pebbles closer to Knightdale. The biggest piece of natural stone I've seen in Wake County is hunkering behind a barn on the south side of the road at mile marker 422 . There's a fully-signaled railroad crossing, with automatic gates and all, on a road that no longer crosses the tracks -- it was truncated by the six-lane bypass at mile marker 421 , on the north side.

Knightdale's water tower would earn the "Doorknob to Hell" nickname we assigned to a similar structure at college; it's visible, obvious, and freshly painted, so no mile marker needed. And the graceful junction of US 64 and the Beltline at Poole Road, with its interlaced bridges above I-440, is punctuated on the westbound side by an arabesque around the sewage pumping station inside the Inner Beltline -- an unexpected sensory experience.

The scenery along the eleven-mile ride is rural Wake County, but not for long. It might be advisable to enjoy the trip while deer sightings are still likely and the tire debris is infrequent -- the traffic is already picking up.

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