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Keys Facing Nighttime Closures On Only Drawbridge On The Only Highway

snake_creek_bridge_islamorada.jpg
Nancy Klingener
/
WLRN
The Snake Creek Bridge in Islamorada is the last drawbridge on the Overseas Highway.

There's one drawbridge left along the Overseas Highway, the only road connecting the Florida Keys. As of Sunday, Sept. 8, that bridge will be closed at night for maintenance five nights a week.

That means no one is getting through that part of the island chain.

The Snake Creek Bridge in Islamorada connects Plantation and Windley keys, around mile marker 85. And it needs cleaning and painting.

The plan is to close the bridge to all traffic from 11:45 p.m. till 4 a.m., Sundays through Thursdays. The state Department of Transportation says the work could last up to three weeks.

People in the Keys are dreading the prospect.

"The only road in, only road out, shut down? It's going to be a nightmare," said Monroe Sheriff Rick Ramsay.

Ramsay said the closure will impact law enforcement efforts at night. He's planning to add officers in the Islamorada area to cover both sides of the bridge but it will be a strain.

"Normally they'd just drive to the Plantation Key jail and drop off a prisoner - it's five minutes away," Ramsay said. Now an arrest on the south side of the bridge will have to go to the county lockup in Marathon.

"We're talking 30-40 minutes with a prisoner in the back of your car but also that takes that officer out of that patrol zone, which leaves that virtually unattended," he said.

Ramsay says that when a deputy in Islamorada makes an arrest, a deputy from Marathon will come up to cover.

And he's expecting long backups on either side that will have impacts throughout the island chain.

"You could see a large amount of tractor trailers in the Key West area, which normally get down there and deliver at nighttime when the roads are clear that now may be trying to get down these really small side streets and neighborhoods to deliver when there's going to be heavy through traffic and day to day bustle-bustle traffic," he said.

In the case of an emergency, first responders will be allowed through — but Ramsay says it will take 20 to 30 minutes to dismantle the construction enough to allow that.

He's hoping the public will not overload 911 lines to ask about the backups. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office has an app that provides alerts and other information about traffic delays along the Overseas Highway.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.