Ambitious plans for construction of the Underline, a 10-mile-long “linear park” for people on foot and on bikes that would run beneath the elevated Metrorail tracks, got a significant lift with the announcement Wednesday of a $22.3 million federal grant for the project.
The BUILD transportation grant to Miami-Dade County’s transit agency will pay for design and construction of a two-and-a-half mile segment running through Coral Gables, said Meg Daly, founder of Friends of the Underline, the nonprofit group that has conceived and coordinated the plan.
That means there’s now enough funding to complete the full three-mile portion of the Underline through the Gables from Douglas Road south to Red Road, Daly said. Private developers building mixed-use projects along that stretch are responsible for the pieces running along their properties. The city of Coral Gables, meanwhile, expects to contribute about $5 million from impact fees collected from new development along the planned trail, said Vice Mayor Vince Lago.
“That’s a big win,” Lago said of the federal grant. “This is going to be a world-class amenity.”
The Gables section will be the project’s second phase, Daly said, after completion of the first half-mile-long segment that runs south from the Miami River through western Brickell. That $14 million Brickell section, which broke ground a year ago, is on budget and on schedule to open next summer, Daly said.
The Underline plan calls for the county to build the linear park, while Daly’s group is responsible for raising the estimated $3 million a year needed to maintain it.
The precise timeline for construction in the Gables is not yet set. The Miami-Dade commission must next formally accept the grant, and approve contracts for design and construction.
The new grant is the first from the federal government for the Underline project, which Daly said has so far secured about 80 percent of its expected $120 million total cost, most of that through local and state funding. The city of Miami has pledged up to $50 million.
That the county was able to snag a grant from the highly competitive BUILD program, which funds transportation infrastructure, means federal officials recognized the multiple aims of the Underline, Daly said.
The plan calls for conversion of the bare-bones M-path running from Brickell to Dadeland under the Metrorail into a lushly planted, well-lit cycling, walking and running trail connecting neighborhoods, Metro stations and a series of gardens and recreational spaces.
The idea, she said, is that it will function as a recreational park as well as a transportation corridor for people using Metrorail, or walking and cycling to work, to rail stations or to cafes, restaurants, grocery stores and other amenities developers are planning for the Underline. The plan, which also calls for significant improvements to now-sketchy street crossings at intersections, would also improve safety for users on foot and on bikes, Daly said.
The Gables portion includes a new separated bridge over a canal at Riviera Drive, she said.
The county and Friends of the Underline will host public meetings to gather ideas for the design and elements people want to see included for the Gables portion of the trail, Daly said. A conceptual master plan for the trail developed by James Corner Field Operations, designers of New York’s famed High Line, called for a gathering and performance space for students and rail users at the University of Miami station, for instance.
The Brickell section now under construction includes butterfly gardens, tables for chess and checkers, a performance stage, basketball courts, a dog-friendly park on the river, and an outdoor gym, among other features.
Daly credited the county’s success in winning the grant from the U.S. department of transportation to backing from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl, along with U.S. Representatives Donna Shalala, a Democrat who represents Coral Gables, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican who sits on the House appropriations committee.
“It was that leadership that brought this home,” Daly said.