New, improved 13th Street overpass reopens

University of Florida nursing students, from left, Brooke Blasser, Lauren Heil, Sera Stevens and Jennifer Soltis, not seen, walk across the newly opened 13th Street overpass dubbed the “double helix,” on their way home. The girls walked across the bridge for the first time Monday morning after waiting all summer for it to open.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 2:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 2:21 p.m.

Foot and bike traffic once again is flowing above Southwest 13th Street.

After a major renovation project that started in March, the pedestrian overpass that links the University of Florida and Shands with apartment complexes to the east reopened on Thanksgiving.

The battered old fencing that caged in the overpass has been replaced with an aluminum enclosure dubbed the "double helix" because of its shape, which is meant to mimic a railroad track being twisted into the molecular structure of DNA.

The design was meant to be a nod to Gainesville's past as a railroad town — the overpass was once a rail bridge — and the city's emergence as a medical and biotechnology hub.

At night, the illuminated walkway shines orange and blue above traffic entering the city from the south.

The pedestrian bridge is the most visible piece in an approximately $3 million series of projects along Southwest 13th Street and the Depot Avenue Rail Trail within the city's College Park/University Heights Community Redevelopment Area.

"I think the image of the overpass creates this great opportunity for a southern gateway into Gainesville," said Brad Pollitt, chairman of the College Park/University Heights CRA advisory board and the vice president of facilities at Shands HealthCare.

Besides the visual transformation, there are safety improvements.

While the overpass was closed, bicyclists and pedestrians such as University of Florida student and employee Alee Douglass had to cross at street level.

Now, the bridge is reopened with the addition of a plaza and staircase to the bridge on the east side of Southwest 13th.

"It's a lot more convenient to get back and forth," Douglass said.

East of the overpass, the rail trail was reconstructed to Southwest 11th Street. That project also has included burying electric lines, new landscaping irrigated with reclaimed water and new streetlights along the trail. Douglass said the lights make it feel safe to walk along the trail at night.

Diane Gilreath, project manager with the CRA, said the city's goal is to eventually establish the overpass and the restored historic train station and the park planned to the east on the former Gainesville Gas Co. property off Depot Avenue as "bookends in this part of the city."

The trail system, overpass and park will link UF with the downtown area, she said.

The construction of the past several months also has included new brick sidewalks along Southwest 13th. The planting of new median landscaping, including palm trees, was continuing on Monday.

The various projects were funded by property tax revenues generated in the College Park/University Heights CRA district, which includes the student apartment and condominium developments east of SW 13th Street.

Christopher Curry is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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