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The City of Gainesville imagined an artistic landmark that acknowledged the past and reached for the future. The new Depot Trail Pedestrian Overpass proves it’s on the right track.

arrow This project was nominated for a Trails and the Arts Award as part of the National Trails Awards, hosted by American Trails.

arrow See more on this trail in "Art Along the Depot Avenue Rail Trail"



Artistic renovation for Gainesville's Depot Trail Overpass


photo of steel bridge with undulating overhead

Gainesville's Depot Trail Overpass


"We're tired of the barbed wire." That was the view expressed by community leaders, referring to the menacing appearance of the old railroad bridge just south of downtown. Gainesville residents agreed.

The tattered bridge over SW 13th Street, the southern gateway into the city, was just plain ugly. It’s true, the overpass was an important part of Gainesville’s history, but the uber-industrial structure no longer resonated with the city's high-tech, environmentally progressive, and thoroughly optimistic personality.

In its day, the bridge had been part of the thriving railroad enterprise that brought Gainesville to prominence in the late nineteenth century and supported the city through two World Wars. Eventually, the railroad industry faded, and unused rail corridors were transformed into an extensive network of trails. Today, owing in part to its interconnected trail system, Gainesville has become one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the nation.

When the steel rails were removed from the SW 13th Street Bridge in the 1980s, a steel cage was installed. While the overpass was safe for pedestrians, the stockade-like enclosure wasn't making a good impression on the community. At best, the structure lacked personality. At worst, it looked like the entrance to a federal prison.

photo of trail bridge with spiral designs

The bridge was designed by RS&H architecture and
engineering consultants


Celebrating Gainesville’s Character

In 2009, recognizing the potential for the pedestrian overpass to showcase the city's image and artistic imagination, the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) decided it was time to remodel. In its Request for Proposals (RFP), the CRA acknowledged the deficiencies of the bridge:
"Unfortunately, the aesthetics of the [existing] bridge do not reflect the history or the vibrancy of the surrounding City. The chain linked caged structure, topped with razor wire, distracts from the history of the bridge and is unfitting in the evolving viewscape of this rapidly progressing City."

The RFP also described the CRA's expectations for the new overpass:
"The [new] design will celebrate the transportation history of the existing bridge as a component of the industrial railway system. This will be further enhanced through contemporary architecture, echoing the present-day technological advances that are occurring within the City of Gainesville. Finally, the design will be distinctive and memorable, visionary in form, composed of simplistic and sustainable materials."


Creating an Artistic Vision

After the CRA reviewed concepts from several groups, the multidiscipline firm of Reynolds, Smith and Hills (RS&H) was commissioned to design the project in 2010. The winning design brought together the major themes outlined by the Redevelopment Agency: railroad history, new technology, and environmental sustainability. The RS&H concept called for a sculptural hybrid train track and DNA strand, constructed of light-weight aluminum, to crown the historic railroad bridge over SW 13th Street.

The design team included noted public artist Elizabeth Indianos along with structural and civil engineers, environmental scientists, landscape architects, and design visualization specialists. RS&H conducted a series of design charrettes and workshops to develop different ideas, and tested them using 3D computer models. The design was completed in May of 2012. "Now that it's built, we are especially pleased at how closely the early bridge concept matches the finished project. The results speak for themselves," remarked Tim Witsil, who heads up Design Visualization at RS&H. The final concept inspired everyone— the client, contractor, and the Gainesville community— to get behind the project, crystalizing a singular vision of the design.

drawing of bridge over freeway

Plan and elevation drawings of the bridge site


Beyond its striking visual appeal, the overpass retrofit achieved a number of important functional objectives.
The project established a much-needed connection between the Depot Avenue Rail Trail, above, and SW 13th Street, below. A series of stairs links the popular trail system with Gainesville's extensive network of sidewalks and to public transit. Gainesville's Regional Transportation System, which operates buses throughout the city, is currently planning a new bus stop at the bridge.

At the top of the stairs, a comfortable overlook plaza provides seating, bike racks and informational signage. The overlook is the perfect place to rest along the trail, capture a keepsake photo, or just sit back and observe the activities along the street below.


Distinctive, Memorable, and Visionary

The American Public Works Association recognized the project with the 2015 Project of the Year Award (Transportation, structures under $5 Million).

The triumph of the Depot Trail Pedestrian Overpass is grounded in the high standards initially set by the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency. In response to the CRA’s call for a “distinctive, memorable, and visionary” landmark, the design team was inspired to develop a one-of-a-kind concept that vividly reflects the heritage and the aspirations of the community.

The helical-train-track overpass is a perfect fit for Gainesville— a city with a railroad past and a high-tech future. Other communities have their own histories and goals— factors that would lead to different solutions in different settings. But no matter the place, designers can learn from Gainesville’s success: local influences often inspire monumental transformations.


For more information:

City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs:

See a video of the bridge project at:

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