A long-awaited deal to fund repairs and upkeep for a historic bridge in the Middle Keys may be close to sealed.
The future of the Old Seven Mile Bridge looked bleak as salt water and storms eroded it toward a critical point where the state would be forced to shut down the last 2.2 miles of the bridge that remains open to pedestrians and cyclists.
Activists, such as the group called Friends of Old Seven, have been pushing the Florida Department of Transportation, Monroe County and the City of Marathon to come up with a hefty sum to fund repairs and maintenance of the bridge.
Although various ideas to rehabilitate Old Seven have been discussed over the last several years, none, so far, have been suitable to all the major stakeholders.
But on Wednesday the Monroe County Commission voted 4-1 to approve a plan that requires the county, the City of Marathon and the Florida Department of Transportation to chip in on the costs. FDOT would be responsible for the lion's share of the total $77.5 million price tag by committing $57 million over a 30-year period. Monroe County would be responsible for $14 million and the City of Marathon $5 million.
Bernard Spinrad, president of Friends of Old Seven, says the plan has to clear one final hurdle.
“The city has to formally approve it but our understanding is that we have a unanimous vote from the council,” he says. “I believe this will be approved on Thursday [Dec. 12], we don’t foresee any problems.”
A hundred years ago, the Old Seven-Mile Bridge was an engineering wonder of its time. Part of Henry Flagler’s famous railway to Key West, it ran across nearly seven miles of open water to connect Marathon to the Lower Keys. But in the early ‘80s, when the new, wider bridge was built next to it, the original structure was in essence nudged out of Florida’s transportation system and no longer a funding priority.
Today, the 2.2-mile section of the bridge that is still open is a popular spot with both locals and tourists for exercising, nature watching or enjoying one of the Keys' famous sunsets.