Old Florida Keys bridge reopens to pedestrians, bicyclists

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This Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, drone aerial photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau shows the Old Seven Mile Bridge ready for its Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, reopening to pedestrians, bicyclists, anglers and visitors to Pigeon Key (island shown in photo). The old bridge originally was part of Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that was completed in 1912. The railroad ceased operations in 1935 and was converted into a highway that opened in 1938. In 1982, construction was completed on a new Seven Mile Bridge, behind, that continues to carry motor vehicles between the South Florida mainland throughout the Keys to Key West. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

MARATHON, Fla. – A segment of a 110-year-old Florida Keys bridge reopened to pedestrians and bicyclists on Wednesday following a $44 million restoration project.

Rehabilitation construction on the oft-photographed 2.2-mile (3.5-km) span of the Old Seven Mile Bridge began in late 2017.

“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.

Nicknamed “Old Seven,” the bridge was completed in 1912 as part of Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that connected the Keys with each other and mainland Florida. The span is the gateway to historic Pigeon Key, a tiny island beneath it that once housed 400 railroad construction workers.

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

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

Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was the crowning moment of a 30-year, $77 million agreement inked in 2013 between Monroe County, the City of Marathon and the Florida Department of Transportation. That agreement funded restoration and maintenance 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 structural steel and bridge joint system repairs, new decking, pedestrian and bicycle handrails and other enhancements.