Following a $44 million restoration project, Old Florida Keys bridge reopens to bicyclists and pedestrians

Seven Mile Bridge – Florida Keys — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Mia2you

Following a $44 million restoration project, a large segment of a 110-year-old Florida Keys bridge is reopening to bicyclists and pedestrians on Wednesday.

Rehabilitation construction on the popular 2.2-mile (3.5-km) span of the Old Seven Mile bridge began in late 2017. Originally scheduled as a four-year $41 million project, October of 2022 would mark the end of the estimated project timeline from when bridgework actually began.

“What made the project challenging was that it is a historic bridge, and we had to restore the bridge to the same aesthetic fabric as the original,” said project manager Tony Sabbag, a Florida Department of Transportation contractor.

Dubbed “Old Seven,” the lengthy bridge was finished in 1912 as part of Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that connected each key with one another and mainland Florida. The span is the gateway to the historic Pigeon Key, a small island beneath it that was once home to 400 railroad construction workers.

In 1938, the railroad bridge was converted to carry several automobiles. In 1982, the new Seven Mile Bridge—6.79 miles (10.9 kilometers) to be exact—debuted alongside the historic one, whose steel swing span that guided marine traffic between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean was removed.

The retired “Old Seven” soon became a recognized recreation area and appeared in multiple films including “True Lies,” a 1994 action-comedy starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Wednesday’s late morning ribbon-cutting ceremony will be the crowning moment of a 30-year, $77 million agreement made in 2013 between the City of Marathon, Monroe County, and the Florida Department of Transportation. That same agreement funded maintenance and restoration to preserve the iconic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Old Seven Mile Bridge is important to the Keys, the history of the Keys and a viaduct to get to Pigeon Key,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

Restoration included bridge joint system repairs and structural steel, new decking, bicycle, and pedestrian handrails plus other enhancements.

“The layperson with the naked eye has no idea about the monumental project these guys undertook,” said Kelly McKinnon, executive director of Pigeon Key. “The fact that they got it done when they got it done is unbelievable. They even wrapped the entire bridge in long sections and made certain that when they were working, nothing got into the natural environment.”

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