On Oct. 14, a Monroe County Public Works employee and a Sheriff’s Office deputy passed the time on the east side of Bimini Bridge, the second arch leading into the outer edges of Duck Key. They stopped one landscaper in a truck, hauling a trailer, and asked for his registration to check the vehicle’s weight. He was waved through. A big box truck pulled up next, emblazoned with the name of a swimming pool company. It was turned around.
For the foreseeable future, that will be the state of affairs on Duck Key. Bimini Bridge, constructed in 1955, was already slated for replacement. But an inspection in early October alarmed officials enough to limit vehicles passing over it to 3 tons. That’s the weight of two Honda Accords. A week later, the weight limit was increased to 9 tons, where it stands now.
“This still doesn’t raise the rating to a level that will support garbage trucks or concrete trucks, but most cars, personal trucks and some delivery trucks (mail, UPS, FedEx) should fall within that limit,” said Monroe County spokesperson Kristen Livengood. She added that the county is providing free weight checks at the Long Key transfer station so truckers can ensure they meet the load rating.
While Duck Key residents knew that the bridge needed work, and that the work was coming soon, it’s thrown a wrench in the day-to-day life of residents. For example, Marathon Garbage Service can’t offer curbside pick up at every home, and so has placed large Dumpsters on “center island,” where residents can bring their trash.
Margie Casey, a Realtor, said many residents use their golf carts to deliver the trash to the Dumpster and don’t consider it a hardship. Ron Oestreicher said the organization he chairs — a nonprofit called the Duck Key Community Benefit, a restructuring of the former Duck Key Property Owners Association — is providing curbside pickup of landscape waste to those who need it and carting it in small trucks to the Dumpsters.
Like the rest of the Keys, property sales are hot on Duck Key right now. Casey cites the curb appeal. “The new bridges are going to amplify that. This is a temporary inconvenience,” she said.
But the very demand for property on the upscale key has probably hastened the bridge’s demise, as heavy trucks loaded with concrete or concrete blocks or roof trusses cross the vintage structure. According to the county, there are almost 80 open building permits on Duck Key, although not all of them are affected by the weight limitations on Bimini Bridge, as well as Harbor Bridge (10 tons) and Seaview Bridge (10 tons). The high number of permits also reflects extensions granted during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“There’s been an awful lot of construction going on,” said resident Sylvia Hernandez, who has 15 years on the island.
As properties change hands, homeowners often elect for immediate upgrades — patios, or a pool or flooring. One homeowner is expecting a big box truck of new furniture. He has arranged for the items to be delivered to the entrance of Duck Key where it will be offloaded and transferred in smaller, lighter loads to the house.
Almost a decade ago, the main bridge connecting the key to Overseas Highway was replaced. The replacement to the three Duck Key bridges has been in the plan for years and further delayed by the arrival of Hurricane Irma in 2017 when other more pressing needs were prioritized. If things had gone to plan, the work replacing Bimini Bridge would have begun in March 2021. Bids for the bridge replacement were put out on Oct. 13 and due back by Dec. 10, advancing the reconstruction by a few months. The bridge is expected to cost $2.5 million, paid for with county funds, and take 18 months to construct.
The county has said an engineering firm is researching whether Bimini Bridge can be propped up in the meantime.
“We are evaluating several methods … including strengthening the north side of the bridge or replacing it completely with a temporary bridge,” said Livengood. “This would be used for traffic while the south side is replaced in the first phase of the project if the county and FDOT determine that is the preferred alternative.”
The design, however, is complete.
“All of that was completed in September,” said Oestreicher, who served on a review committee along with other residents. He said the new design will still have the same arch effect, but is wider, with room for a pedestrian walkway which doesn’t exist now. “They are going to be different, but not out of character with what’s there now. They are going to be safer, wider bridges which is what we need.”