From Razor Wire to Postcard Shot - New Bridge a Fine Feature in Gainesville, Fla.

Posted 06/29/12 by Laura Stark in Building Trails

Photo © Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc.

There's no way to put this nicely: the Southwest 13th Street bridge was just plain ugly. But construction is currently under way to transform the Gainesville, Fla., pedestrian overpass--which once featured cage-like siding and razor wire on top-  into a magnificent gateway feature for the city. The Depot Avenue Rail-Trail, which runs across the structure, will undoubtedly benefit from the project.

"You didn't feel comfortable going on the old bridge," says Diane Gilreath, project manager for the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, which is responsible for the structure. "It felt abandoned, like you shouldn't really be there. The new bridge not only makes you want to be there, but brings more people to this section of the rail-trail."

The agency's concept for the bridge was something that would represent not only the city's history, but also its present day and future. That vision came to life in a remarkable design from Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc., that featured a railroad track--representing the railroad commerce upon which the city was founded--twisted into a double-helix DNA strand to embody the research and advances in biotechnology being conducted at the University of Florida and Shands Hospital.

Although still under construction and months from completion, the striking design is already attracting attention.

"People drive by and pull out their cell phone cameras," says Gilreath, "and their mouths gape open."

Concept drawing © Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc.

Not surprisingly, an observation platform providing a prime photo opportunity is being built into the bridge, along with a stairway that will take travelers on street level up to the rail-trail, a connection that was never available before. As many residents--particularly students--also use the route at night, white lighting was added throughout the structure to increase safety, which will have the effect of making the bridge quite dramatic after dark.

"What people perceive on the bridge during the day and what they perceive at night will be completely different," says Gilreath. "The bridge is not going to disappear at night."

And the choice to use energy-efficient LED lighting is just one example of many environmentally friendly considerations made for the project. Another is a rain garden, which will transform the slope under the rail bridge into a series of terraces that allow stormwater to soak into the soil, rather than wash down into the street.

Farther east, the trail leads to a historical train depot, which is currently being renovated and will house a museum, visitor center and café. That's just one of many improvements slated for the aptly named Depot Park, where the 1860 building is situated. The park will be a hub of recreational activity, including trails that lead all over the city and beyond, such as theGainesville-Hawthorne State Park Trail that whisks visitors out of the busy downtown area and into beautiful natural surroundings teeming with wildlife.

Those anxious to see the new bridge and restored depot will have to wait until the fall, when both projects are scheduled to be completed. But, when they do visit, says Ron Sill, the lead designer for RS&H, "There's absolutely nothing like it. If you see the bridge, you'll never forget it."

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