Christiana Briganti-Dunn is a civil engineer who oversees design-build projects for the Virginia Department of Transportation, but two years ago, she found herself holding a set of paint swatches up against a wall like a homeowner planning a kitchen renovation.
The wall was at Chapman Mill, a five-story stone gristmill built in the 18th century near Broad Run, Va. Christiana’s job was to pick colors that would be painted on a set of bridge abutments on nearby Interstate 66. Everyone wanted the bridges to look pretty.
“When we were meeting with the communities of Haymarket and western Prince William County, talking during the design phase about how we would make this bridge attractive, we all came up with the idea together: What if we tried to evoke the look of Chapman Mill?” said Bill Cuttler, VDOT’s district construction engineer for Northern Virginia — and Christiana’s boss.
It was decided that rather than boring old smooth concrete, the surface of the bridge abutments — for Route 15, Old Carolina Road and Catharpin Road — would be impressed with a pattern, a technique known as Ashlar stamping. They chose a design that mimics the dry stack stone construction — meaning, no mortar — of Chapman Mill, also known as Beverley Mill. That concrete would then be painted to look like the various colors of fieldstone from which the mill was built in 1742.
Besides comparing what’s known as a Federal Standard Color Chart with one of the mill’s walls, Christiana borrowed a few small sample stones. “I selected five Federal colors, including the most predominant color as the base, and then other colors to be added atop the base coat to give the color variation that is similar to the mill,” Christiana wrote in an email.
If you’ve driven on that part of I-66 in the past week or two, you may have seen crews from Hunt Valley Distributors painting the abutments.
Building the abutments out of hand-laid stones — as the mill was — would have been too expensive and time-consuming, Bill said, “but we were able to give it that look. It doesn’t look exactly like it, but it looks similar to it. We’re doing something in 2017 and trying to give it a little bit of a look from 1742.”
What traffic engineers are really excited about isn’t the paint, but the revamped Route 15 interchange itself, which will be dedicated in a few weeks.
“It’s a very interesting design,” Bill said. It’s called a diverging-diamond interchange, or DDI. Rather than looping vehicles off Route 15 and onto I-66 via cloverleafs that veer off to the right, I-66-bound traffic moves to the left. For a few hundred yards over the interstate, it looks like you’re driving in England: Keep to the left!
“It’s the first of its kind DDI in the Washington, D.C., area,” Bill said. “It makes ramp movements a little better.”
The design is sufficiently novel that there’s a little animation of how it works on the VDOT website.
Shirley Contracting Company is the design-builder for the widening of I-66 and Lane Construction did the Route 15 interchange project. The faux-stone paintwork may be a minor part of the $59 million project, but I like it when people think our infrastructure should please the eye as well as the axle.
I can imagine the conversation:
“Ooh! Put the costume on, Brad.”
“Sylvia, you know this is for work. It’s supposed to stay at the office when I’m not using it.”
“Brad, when I see you dressed in durable Oxford White and Charcoal vinyl, it just does something to me.”
“But, it covers my head.”
“Head rest, Brad. It covers your head rest. When you’re a car seat, you don’t have a head.”
“I look silly, Sylvia! And, frankly, it’s degrading. I’m a highly trained traffic researcher at Virginia Tech, not some upholstered piece of faceless beefcake.”
“Nonsense, Brad. You look strong. And comfortable. And easily cleaned with a damp sponge and a stiff brush. Now come give Mommy some lumbar support.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.