Members of the community trickled in to a Miami-Dade Transit open house meeting Tuesday night, aimed at informing citizens about its $6 million pedestrian walkway project plan over South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables.
The walkway, which will be more than 18 feet tall, is set to be built in an area where several University of Miami students have been killed or injured while trying to cross the busy highway.
The public meeting was held in an open-house form and went on for about two hours. Large prints of the construction plan and conceptual designs were placed all over the conference room at the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center.
Transit staff, Gables public works employees and the engineer who designed the walkway were all in attendance. The meeting was quiet as members of the community went in and out.
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The overpass will reach from Metrorail’s University Station onto a redesigned Mariposa Court. Mariposa is the eastern boundary of the University Centre shopping center, home to Bagel Emporium, TGI Friday’s and other retailers.
The county is preparing the construction contract documents and is expected to advertise bids for the project next week, said Miami-Dade County spokeswoman Karla Damian. Construction is expected to start in spring 2015 and take about a year to complete.
The proposed walkway has had a contentious history. The University of Miami has been lobbying hard for the walkway, as a result of eight UM students being killed or seriously injured since 1989 trying to cross the highway at that intersection. Three of the eight students died: Eric Adams in 1990, Aaron Baber in 1998 and Ashley Kelly in 2005; the bridge would be named for them.
Staircases will feature a 4-inch pathway for commuters to walk their bikes to the second floor.
Last year, the county offered the owners of the University Centre $1.8 million to compensate them for the loss of five parking spaces needed to anchor the bridge. The owners refused the offer.
The county, working with the city of Coral Gables and the Federal Transit Administration, then proposed redesigning Mariposa Court from three to two lanes, which would enable the walkway’s tower to be anchored in the public right of way, instead of within the shopping center.
The crosswalk is going to be closed at that intersection; pedestrians will have to take the walkway to cross U.S. 1. There will be a 21-second green light to allow drivers time to make right or left turns onto the highway, the county said.
“The overpass is designed to provide a safer crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the heavily traveled U.S. 1 at Mariposa Court,” Damian said. “Elevators and escalators will allow easy access to the overpass from both sides of U.S. 1.”
The multi-million project will be funded by county transportation surtax funds, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration.
Former Coral Gables Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, who recently announced he was running for Gables mayor in April 2015, was in attendance. He was serving as a Gables official when the proposal was originally brainstormed in 2008.
“It’s a very important issue in our city. I thought it was important in 2008 and I think it’s just as important in 2014,” Cabrera said. “ I can’t wait to see this move forward.”
In 2007, the project had to be halted because of the recession, county staff said. Now there are sufficient funds to get the project done. About $3.7 million are estimated to go toward construction, and the rest will go toward soft costs.
An estimated 1,300 people cross the major highway every day, according to a study conducted last year by the county, Damian said.
UM students Sophie Barros and Sherman Hewitt were at the meeting. They said it’s important to their student body.
“It feels very sketchy and dangerous crossing that street at times,” Hewitt said, a sophomore at the University. “I think this will really relieve those who are set to walk across.”