The prospects for the Old Seven-Mile Bridge in the Middle Keys have turned 180 degrees in the past several weeks. The historic bridge and popular walking spot once in danger of being shut down is now close to receiving more than $77 million for repairs and 30 years' worth of upkeep.
The hard-fought deal to fund the bridge’s revival was hammered out at the end of December by the Florida Department of Transportation, Monroe County and the city of Marathon. The county’s administrator, Roman Gastesi, said the three stakeholders are now working out the final details and expects the plan to be ratified by the county and city commissions in March. “We don’t anticipate any hiccups at all,” Gastesi said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also recently announced it is allocating a little over a $1 million to make the bridge wheelchair-accessible.
The non-profit group Friends of Old Seven is taking these developments as a signal to start campaigning for private investment to fund the beautification of the bridge and the areas immediately surrounding it.
Bernard Spinrad heads up FO7 and is Aruba’s former tourism director. He has no shortage of grand ideas for the bridge and how it, combined with other developments, could boost the Middle Keys' tourism economy.
“And we believe that the bridge will bring people to the keys to stay in Marathon,” Spinrad said. “Not just have Marathon be a pass-through to Key West, but have it be a destination in its own right.”
The 100-year-old bridge was part of Henry Flagler’s railway to Key West and was considered an engineering wonder in its day.
Since being closed to automobile traffic in the early ‘80s, it has become a popular spot among both tourists and locals for exercising, nature watching, and enjoying a famous Florida Keys sunset.