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Iconic Seven Mile Bridge likely to be fully replaced, as officials reject continuous repair

The Seven Mile Bridge constructed in 1982 (left) lies adjacent to the old Seven Mile Bridge which originally held Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad. On Thursday, May 16, 2024, at the Marathon Government Center, Florida Department of Transportation officials held a public kick-off meeting for a project likely fully replacing the 1982 structure with a new bridge.
Julia Cooper
The Seven Mile Bridge constructed in 1982 (left) lies adjacent to the old Seven Mile Bridge which originally held Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad. On Thursday, May 16, 2024, at the Marathon Government Center, Florida Department of Transportation officials held a public kick-off meeting for a project likely fully replacing the 1982 structure with a new bridge.

The Seven Mile Bridge is something of an iconic landmark in the Florida Keys. It was a record-breaker as the longest concrete segmental bridge in the world when it was built in 1982. It has cameos in several Hollywood films, including the James Bond tale License to Kill and James Cameron’s True Lies.

Now, the bridge is likely slated for a complete makeover — with state transportation officials saying it should be fully reconstructed.

A 2022 Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) report concluded that structure connecting the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys should be fully replaced instead of continuously repaired like it has been since construction.

The report outlined that “the history of the bridge deficiencies dates back to the original construction.”

“The bridge has faced repeated durability and maintenance issues which have led to 6 major rehabilitations through 2019,” Sylvia Beltre, the consultant project manager, told a public meeting on Thursday. “The annual cost of maintaining the existing bridge will continue to increase.”

The existing bridge is not functionally deficient, but it is deteriorating.

It is located in an extremely corrosive environment, surrounded by salt water. Chloride content several times the threshold for corrosion was found in parts of the bridge, according to the .

READ MORE: The Century-Old Bridge That's More Than Just A Transportation Route

Rather than continuing to pour money into maintenance and repair projects, FDOT is evaluating the feasibility and potential impact of a full replacement. The current phase of the project — a Project Development and Environment or PD&E study — is projected to wrap up sometime in the winter of 2026.

The details were unveiled at FDOT's public kick off meeting for the replacement project.

“The environmental analysis will determine potential impacts the project might have on the social, natural, cultural and physical environment,” Beltre said.

A new bridge would also be engineered to current day standards and be built to last at least 75 years.

Members of the public asked several questions regarding pedestrian and cyclist safety. FDOT officials said they are considering the possibility of a dedicated bike lane across the bridge.

“A shared use path includes a barrier separated from vehicular traffic and of course from the water as well,” Beltre said.

While it’s too early to tell how much a project like this might cost, Beltre announced at the meeting that the Seven Mile Bridge replacement might qualify for federal funding. The bridge’s sufficiency rating from the Federal Highway Administration is 49.1. Any rating under 50 qualifies for federal highway bridge program funding.

Julia Cooper reports on all things Florida Keys and South Dade for WLRN.
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