The dream of building two long, park-like cycling and walking trails through Miami and its close-in suburbs got a big boost in the shape of multimillion-dollar state grants as Gov. Rick Scott signed the state budget and spared both projects from vetoes.
The Underline, a volunteer-run project that aims to transform the 10 miles of the threadbare M-Path beneath the Metrorail guideway from Dadeland to Brickell into a lush series of recreational spaces linked by a continuous trailway, will receive $2 million toward construction and lighting — money that Scott had vetoed last year. That brings the total raised so far for the project’s first phase, a stretch around the Brickell Metrorail station, to $7 million, said Underline originator Meg Daly.
The Ludlam Trail plan, which would convert an unused rail corridor running 6.2 miles from Dadeland nearly to Miami International Airport, will receive $3 million toward purchase of right-of-way from its owner, Florida East Coast Industries. That grant brings the total raised for the project to $11.7 million, said Tony Garcia, chairman of Friends of Ludlam Trail, a nonprofit group backing the plan.
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In both cases, the grants cover only a fraction of the planned trails’ total cost but bring the projects close to the starting point. Backers say they’re also a significant sign of support from the state and Miami-Dade’s legislative delegation, which has made the projects a priority, and will help attract additional public and private funding.
Daly said Underline and Ludlam Trail supporters were on tenterhooks since the Legislature approved a record $82 million budget that included both grants, and were relieved when Scott did not include either in a list of expected vetoes released earlier this week. Scott then promptly signed the budget with no further cuts late Thursday after it was delivered to his desk.
“We’re excited, for both of us,” Daly said. “We were sitting on pins and needles because we didn’t know which way it would go.”
The news comes as backers of both plans prepare for public events designed to drum up support and familiarize people with the routes.
FECI has already spent a substantial sum cleaning up and grading the trail running south from Barnes Park at Bird Road and, with the friends group, has organized several rides, runs and walks along the route. On March 26, the volunteer group will lead the first hike along the northern portion of the corridor to Southwest Eighth Street.
Underline organizers and the county, meanwhile, will host a bike fest along the full length of the M-Path on April 2 that includes a guided ride of the entire route and “pop-up” events at the Brickell, Coconut Grove and South Miami Metro stations. Among the events: Zumba, spinning and yoga classes, and a two-on-two basketball tournament. Before that, on March 30, students and faculty from the University of Miami architecture school will devote a service day to building a temporary “outdoor living room” outside the University station, which lacks sitting areas for people waiting to be picked up or for a bus connection.
Daly said the $7 million now in hand will likely cover the cost of basic trail construction from the edge of the Miami River at least to Southwest Eighth Street and possibly into The Roads. The balance of that is coming from city of Miami and Miami-Dade parks and transportation grants — the latter because planners were able to demonstrate that the trail will be used by locals for commuting and short trips, blunting growing traffic congestion in Brickell, Daly said. Work could start next year, she added.
Underline backers late last year unveiled an ambitious master plan by James Corner Field Operations, co-designers of New York’s massively successful High Line, which converted an unused elevated railway into a linear park in Lower Manhattan.
Estimates put the cost of executing the full plan, which includes a series of gardens, art and recreational features along its length, at $120 million. But that figure is due in part to the complexity of ensuring safety along the pathway’s 36 roadway intersections, which include some of the busiest in the city. The plan calls for bike and pedestrian bridges over five intersections and at least minor modifications to all the rest, at a cost of about $20 million.
For Ludlam Trail, the state money boosts the chances of success as FECI and Miami-Dade negotiate the sale of most of the rail corridor, Garcia said. A compromise plan hammered out last year between FECI and the county allows the company to build residential and commercial development along the route at four “nodes” at major intersections, leaving three-quarters of the corridor as open recreational space. That open space would be publicly owned and managed if a sale price can be agreed upon, though no figures have been released.
For information on the Ludlam Trail hike on March 26, go to http://ludlamtrail.org/news/
For information on the Underline’s April 2 bike festival, to to https://www.theunderline.org/news/