an aerial view of a long bridge in the middle of the ocean
The Seven Mile Bridge will eventually be replaced, state officials said at a May 16 meeting. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU/Contributed(Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau)

First things first: Florida Department of Transportation officials want everyone to know the Seven Mile Bridge is NOT structurally unsafe.

It’s solid, they’ve repeatedly said publicly. No worries.

But like the rest of us, the iconic two-lane span built in 1982 and unveiled as a marvel of engineering innovation isn’t getting any younger.

The bridge has been through six major rehabilitations, with one more set to start in December 2025 and scheduled for completion in October 2026.
“The Seven Mile Bridge is not structurally deficient,” said Silvia Beltre, consultant project manager, at FDOT’s May 16 “kickoff meeting” on the Seven Mile Bridge project development and environment (PD&E) study.

“The bridge has faced repeated durability and maintenance issues that have led to six major rehabilitations through 2019,” Beltre said. “The annual cost of maintaining the existing bridge will continue to increase.”

State officials have been talking about a new Seven Mile Bridge for years.

A 2022 FDOT report recommended replacing it rather than continuing rehab efforts.

“A new bridge could be designed to minimize corrosion and maintenance costs,” Beltre said. “Furthermore, a new bridge would be designed to meet the minimum 75-year bridge service life requirement.”

The study, which is the second of six phases for the project, evaluates the potential social, economic and environmental effects associated with the bridge.

This means it’s time to brainstorm, FDOT officials said.

What could a brand new Seven Mile Bridge have that the current one, with two 12-foot lanes, 6-foot shoulders and no sidewalks, doesn’t?

Locals have brought up having dedicated bicycle and pedestrian paths. FDOT officials said they would have protective dividers separating walkers, runners and bicyclists from vehicle traffic.

“A lot of the people in my community are really excited about the idea of a dedicated pedestrian and bicycle lane,” said county commissioner Michelle Lincoln of Marathon at the May 14 meeting.

“It is so much fun to travel through the Keys walking and bicycling,” Lincoln said. “This would be a wonderful way for them to safely get from one side of the bridge to the other.”

The current bridge replacement alternatives will be based on two lanes of traffic, FDOT officials said. A traffic study will be conducted that will confirm the capacity needs, but no plans exist to add vehicle lanes.

Mark Terrill, who has a Keys bike business, said that for the last 13 years he’s received calls from across the world from people concerned about bicycling over the Seven Mile Bridge.

“If you were to have a dedicated bike lane over the Seven Mile Bridge, not only would that enhance the type of tourism I think the Keys really would like, but also it would really promote safety,” Terrill said.

“All the years I’ve gone over the Seven Mile Bridge on a bike, I’ve noticed an uptick of runners and hikers,” Terrill said. “This would just put Monroe County on the map in terms of being a world-class bicycling destination.”

Jethón Williams II, Monroe County’s TV/multimedia manager, asked for details.

“I’m thinking something like the Brooklyn Bridge, where you have lanes for vehicles, then you have a divider, then a pedestrian/walking/running/cycling path,” he told FDOT officials.

A “shared use path” is exactly what FDOT is considering, an official replied.

Gwen Filosa
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.