HOW DO WE REPLACE THE SEVEN MILE BRIDGE?

The Seven Mile Bridge in the Middle Keys, which opened 1982, is set to be replaced through a series of projects that could take well into 2030. ANDY NEWMAN/Florida Keys News Bureau

Antonette Adams, FDOT District 6 program management administrator, had the PowerPoint presentation, budget projections and a list of bridges set for replacement over the next several years, namely the two longest ones in the island chain: the Seven Mile Bridge and the Long Key Bridge.

But the FDOT colleagues couldn’t make it on time to the meeting, held at the Marathon Government Center. 

Adams apologized and gave a reason that she and commissioners couldn’t let drop without noting the irony.  

“We did run into traffic,” said Adams, clearly in on the joke. “You’ll have to take it up with DOT.”

“Welcome to the Keys,” Commissioner Michelle Lincoln replied.

Much of the commission’s work on Oct. 18 was about traffic: the almost unimaginable costs to raise roads. Bridge replacements. They were told by FDOT that a single traffic light on Stock Island could take four years to arrive. 

FDOT’s District 6 has a $4.1 billion budget for 2024-25. Monroe County’s share of the total budget is $491 million, which has tripled over the last six years. But it’s still a little less than last year. 

That budget will likely hit $1 billion when it starts including a new Seven Mile Bridge. FDOT’s five-year plan includes $659 million for replacement in 2030, and $16 million for repairs in fiscal year 2026. 

Bridge repair projects tops FDOT’s tentative five-year plan, with the list at about $270 million and includes many replacements.

Along with the two longest ones in the Keys planned for replacement, FDOT has the Snake Creek Bridge, Tom’s Harbor Cut Bridge, and two on Card Sound Road: Tubby’s Bridge and Mosquito Creek Bridge. 

County drafts a charter government proposal 

County Attorney Bob Shillinger on Oct. 18  filed a draft of the charter county proposal for the 2024 ballot to the county commission. 

The draft language, with the ballot question labeled “Proposed Home Rule Charter for Monroe County,” would have Keys voters agreeing they’re “united in the belief that governmental decisions affecting local interests should be made locally, rather than by the state.”

Monroe County leaders want to install a charter form of government, which is essentially creating a new Keyswide constitution, saying it’s the solution to repairing and raising Keys roads by creating a new tax to pay for the exponential costs. 

The commission has a special charter county discussion meeting set for Monday, Nov. 6, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Marathon Government Center.

Shilliinger has been on a charter presentation tour, including a stop before the Key West City Commission, to explain to residents across Monroe the county’s side: that making the Keys a charter county would enable the region to create a tax to fund projects to alleviate road flooding.

The proposed “transportation tax,” limited to 1 percent, would likely add up to multiple millions a year that the Keys could count on for roads, county leaders say. Tourists would pay two-thirds of the tax, Shillinger has said. 

People have asked whether an increase in property taxes would work rather than creating a transportation tax, which county leaders say would largely be paid by tourists. 

“They want to see some numbers,” Shillinger told county commissioners at their Oct. 18 meeting. “What are these projects really going to cost?” 

By the end of the year, Shillinger said the county will have road projects figures that will help taxpayers calculate the options. 

“We’ll be able to come up with an example of how things would shake out for a typical homeowner,” Shillinger said.

“We are not doing this as a power grab,” Lincoln, of Marathon, said at the BOCC’s October meeting. “We do not want to preempt our municipalities, we respect our partners. This could possibly be a financial benefit for them as well in receiving some of this infrastructure tax money that could go to improve their road projects, their transportation issues, their bridge repair as well.”

The “Home Rule” ballot language is drafted as: 

“Shall there be a Home Rule Charter for Monroe County, establishing the form and powers of local self-government; maintaining the legislative powers of a board of five commissioners elected countywide; maintaining an appointed professional manager; providing that municipal ordinances prevail over conflicting county ordinances.”

The BOCC’s next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Harvey Government Center in Key West.

When’s a College Road traffic light coming back? County presses FDOT 

While the FDOT officials were at the Oct. 18 meeting, Lincoln put them on the spot about a traffic light on College Road on Stock Island that worked wonders for locals in 2021. 

The intersection light was temporary, to help alleviate traffic slowdowns during nearby bridge construction. Those who rely on that route want it back.

The light allowed drivers to turn from College Road onto U.S. 1. Without the light, that left turn is nearly impossible.

But Lincoln’s push for FDOT to make it happen ran into government red tape traffic. 

FDOT said the traffic light is on their radar – funded for construction in 2027. 

It’s been more than a year since Sheriff Rick Ramsay confirmed to the Keys Weekly that state officials were mapping out plans to put the light back. 

Danny Iglesias, FDOT’s district director of development, said they would follow up with their traffic operations office. It’s about the funding source and schedule and then making the plans. 

“We understand the need, and how urgent it is for the community,” Iglesias said. “It’s just different when it comes to us installing permanent signal features than when we go out and put up a temporary structure.”

Lincoln politely but firmly asked again.

“That’s a very dangerous intersection,” Lincon said. “Can a temporary one be put there until you can get the permanent funding?” Lincoln asked. “I’m harping on you and I’m sorry, but this is so important to the people.”

FDOT didn’t say no on another “temporary” fix. 

But temporary structures are designed for short-term use only, Iglesias said. 

“It was very temporary,” Iglesias said. “We’d have to go see if anything can be done on an interim basis.”

Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.