BY LARRY KAHN
Enjoy walking or biking the old Seven Mile Bridge? You have three weeks to continue to do so.
The 2.2-mile section of the span that heads from Marathon to historic Pigeon Key, a former railroad-worker camp, is slated to close July 5 so the state Department of Transportation can begin a 30-year rehabilitation project. The bridge was decommissioned in 1982 when the adjacent new Seven Mile Bridge opened. The closure is for 300 days.
The old bridge is riddled with problems, from the decking falling apart to the railings rusting and breaking. DOT closed it to auto traffic in 2008. A few years later, citing dangers caused by excess weight, it closed it to fishing, too. Since then, only pedestrians, bicyclists and skaters have been allowed to use it.
Come the day after Independence Day, they also will not be allowed on the bridge because the first phase of the renovation is $1.98 million worth of work on the underpass that allows people to walk from the old bridge on the bayside down steps under the new span to the oceanside. That means closing the old bridge’s parking lot.
Even though it’s a 30-year rehab project, the bridge won’t be closed for three decades. But it will be closed as work on sections of it are done.
DOT says it’s making the underpass Americans with Disabilities Act compliant; installing pedestrian access ramps on each side of the parking lot; rebuilding bridge access from the parking lot, picnic pavilions and seawall; installing new retaining walls for scenic overlooks along the access ramp; and repaving the parking lot.
It’s the beginning of the rehab, the cost of which is being shared by DOT, Monroe County and the city of Marathon under a deal struck in 2014. Over the 30 years, DOT is paying $57.2 million, the county $14.24 million and Marathon $5.34 million. Marathon’s share is for annual maintenance.
The bridge was constructed from 1909 to 1912 for the Key West Extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. It was converted to automobile use in 1938, three years after the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 wiped out the Keys section of the railroad.
It’s now popular for morning and after exercising, and among tourists who love taking in the view of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. It’s among the Keys’ most popular photo spots.