Ashley Kelly was a freshman at the University of Miami in 2005 when she was struck and killed by a car while attempting to cross the intersection of Mariposa Court and U.S. 1. Her death was one of three fatalities and several other injuries to pedestrians crossing U.S. 1 near the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus since 1989.
Now, after years of planning and delays, there is a pedestrian bridge connecting the University Metrorail Station to Mariposa Court.
Former UM President Donna Shalala issued a statement after Kelly’s death in which she stated her intent to ensure the future safety of pedestrians crossing the busy intersection – particularly students – by conducting a safety review and working with local and federal officials to explore the option of constructing an overpass.
It took nearly 12 years for that to happen. The overpass bridge was officially open to the public in late August, in time for the start of UM’s fall semester. On Sept. 13, city officials and UM administrators were expected to hold a dedication ceremony. However, Hurricane Irma postponed the ceremony until Dec. 2.
Among those in attendance included Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli and University of Miami President Julio Frenk.
Frenk, who succeeded Shalala as university president, continued the construction efforts immediately after he began his tenure.
“I arrived in August 2015, and I was presented with the proposal to start the construction, which I obviously green lighted immediately,” Frenk said.
According to a study conducted by Miami-Dade Transit, 1,300 people cross the intersection each day.
Frenk said, pedestrians, including UM students, will benefit from the bridge now and for years to come.
“Built out of steel and tempered by the even stronger young minds of caring and dedicated young students, this overpass will ensure the safety of countless thousands each year,” Frenk said.
The construction was a collaboration between the city of Coral Gables, Miami-Dade County and UM.
The $6 million project was initially approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission in 2007. Construction was expected to start in 2014 and wrap by the end of 2015. However, budget issues halted the project.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, who presided over the ceremony, said that land acquisition was another factor adding to construction time.
“We had a great delay trying to acquire some property from the owners of the mall across the street,” Giménez said. “They wanted some ridiculous price for two or three parking spots.”
The owners of the University Centre shopping complex refused to take $1.8 million in exchange for five parking spaces which would be covered by the overpass.
While Giménez spoke about the importance of the bridge for the safety of pedestrians, he also stressed that he and the other branches involved should be able to finish projects more efficiently in the future.
“We can get things done when we work together,” Giménez said. “Hopefully though, next time when we work together we can get it done faster than 13 years.”
The UM student government also played an important role in pushing this project forward. The day following Kelly’s death, the Student Government Senate at the time passed the Ashley Kelly Resolution. The resolution called for the construction of an overpass bridge so students at UM could safely cross the street.
Frenk said without the involvement of UM’s student government throughout the years following Kelly’s death, the construction and completion of the project would not have been possible.
“We are forever grateful for their dedication, devotion and determination,” Frenk said.
Student Government Vice President Coleman Reardon, who was a fifth grader when the project first started and a senior when it was completed, emphasized that continued student outreach was key to moving this project toward completion.
The bridge is 120 feet long, and it passes directly over U.S. 1. The bridge also has two air-conditioned elevators at each end, and the staircases have special tracks to make carrying bikes easier.