Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Old Seven Mile Bridge In The Florida Keys

Update: This bridge is currently closed, and is being repaired by the Florida DOT. As soon as I get exact opening date, I will post it.


Welcome to the Old Seven Mile Bridge. This 2.2 mile section of bridge is rich in history, and extremely important to Florida Keys tourism. The entire Old Seven Mile Bridge was originally constructed as a railroad bridge by Henry Flagler to connect Key West to the mainland. Construction started in 1908, and was completed in 1912. This bridge was originally known as the Knights Key-Pigeon Key-Moser Channel-Pacet Channel Bridge. Henry Flagler, whose railroads and lavish hotels helped open Florida's coast to development and tourism, began building the Overseas Railway in 1904. The Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway cost him an estimated $50 million. About 200 men died building the line, most during a 1906 hurricane. The extension was finished in 1912, stretching 128 miles from Homestead to Key West. It included 42 bridges over 18 miles of ocean.

The Labor Day hurricane of 1935, a storm with winds well in excess of 200 miles an hour, damaged 42 miles of track. With the Great Depression, the Florida East Coast Railway in bankruptcy receivership and the growing popularity of cars, the company decided not to repair it. The railroad right-of-way was sold to the state for $600,000. The state later widened the old Seven Mile Bridge, paved over the tracks and opened the Overseas Highway in 1935, and closed it in 1982 after construction of a new bridge. This is the only section of the original bridge open to the public (foot and bicycle traffic only). This connects Marathon to Pigeon Key (a tiny island at the south end). The other original bridge sections have been closed since 1982.

This bridge portion has been deteriorating for decades. A group called 'The Friends of Old Seven' has lead an effort to save and preserve this historic Middle Keys landmark. Through lots of hard work on their part and many others, an agreement was struck in 2013 between Monroe County, the city of Marathon, and the Florida Department of Transportation to save this portion of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge. In December 2013, an agreement was reached between Monroe County, the city of Marathon and the state Department of Transportation to upgrade the bridge. The Monroe County Commission gave final approval to the $77.5 million spending plan to repair the bridge. The Marathon City Council voiced unanimous support for the plan. The construction dates to start working here will be March 2016 and end September 2017. During that time the bridge will be completely closed.

My first biking adventure here was on 9-20-11, and my second was 11-12-14. Bicycling on this historic structure was beyond thrilling. And the view all around is spectacular. Especially at the very end. Many people visit this bridge daily. And locals routinely walk here early mornings, usually between 7-9am. Also keep in mind recording video with a camera attached to your handlebars while biking the bridge simply would be a bad idea. There are too many creases in the pavement making it too bumpy. Just a suggestion.