UM a step closer to pedestrian bridge across U.S. 1

A small side street opposite the University of Miami went from being a city to a county street Tuesday, clearing the way for the county to build a long-sought pedestrian bridge across U.S. 1.

The bridge could be ready by spring 2015, according to the county.

Coral Gables commissioners unanimously agreed to transfer control of Mariposa Court to Miami-Dade County. The bridge would rise about 17 feet above U.S. 1 and reach from the Metrorail’s University Station onto a redesigned Mariposa Court, which runs alongside the eastern boundary of the University Centre strip mall.

Since 1989, eight UM students have been struck trying to cross U.S. 1 to get to the retail spots at the center. Three died — Eric Adams in 1990, Aaron Baber in 1998 and Ashley Kelly in 2005 — and the bridge would be named for them.

“Clearly, it’s a very important issue,” said UM Student Government President Bhumi Patel. “It’s a personal issue that hits home to the student body. The majority of students do cross that intersection as a main drop-off point for classes and the residential colleges for students who are trying to get to T.G.I. Fridays and Bagel Emporium. They are crossing at the crosswalk. It’s not as though they are running in the middle of U.S.1. It’s a dangerous area.”

Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason, who favors the plan, agreed. “One out of four people driving there is a D.U.I. That is a dangerous area, particularly at night.”

The Mediterranean-style overpass would land in the right-of-way of Mariposa Court, explained Albert Hernandez, assistant director of engineering, planning and development for Miami-Dade Transit. “We have received Federal Transit approval two weeks ago. This resolution is the final hurdle to move on to final design,” he said at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Currently, Mariposa includes one inbound lane from U.S. 1 and exclusive left- and right-turn lanes. The plan would combine the left and right lanes into one lane to serve both purposes and would keep the inbound lane. This would reduce the section from three to two lanes and afford room to land the tower. The crosswalk would be closed to access and pedestrians would have to take the bridge to cross U.S. 1 at that intersection, Hernandez said.

There will be a 21-second green light to allow drivers time to make right or left turns onto the highway, more than enough time to suit the level of vehicular traffic coming off of Mariposa, Hernandez said.

State and federal agencies have allocated about $6 million for the bridge. There will be no cost to Coral Gables. The county would assume all risks, assume full responsibility for drainage and maintenance, and the city would be indemnified against any suits, said Gables City Attorney Craig Leen.

Coral Gables and Miami-Dade County began discussions of a deal for the pedestrian bridge earlier this year that would not involve University Centre because its owners refused a county offer of $1.8 million to anchor the bridge on a far eastern corner of their property and to compensate for the loss of five parking spaces.

Hernandez expects construction to last a year and begin in the spring of 2014 once a redesign of the bridge is completed and approved.

“Please promise it won’t be orange,” Cason said, laughing.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.