Ken Gentes, David Dehaas and Mark Gregg check out FDOT’s feasibility study on Snake Creek bridge during a community input session April 24 at Founders Park Community Center. The three men peer at option three, which shows a roundabout at Venetian Shores as well as an underpass at Smugglers Cove. Four options were put on tables for residents to view. JIM McCARTHY

State transportation officials paid a visit to Islamorada on April 24 to showcase to the public possible options to deal with the congestion problem at Snake Creek bridge at MM 85.

At every hour, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., large vessels pass through Snake Creek. In the several minutes it takes for the drawbridge to go up and down, traffic lines up and congestion builds on the single lane of traffic north and south in Islamorada. During peak season, traffic goes back miles as a result of the drawbridge.

Florida Department of Transportation project managers were on hand inside the Founders Park Community Center to unveil and discuss drawings of a new bridge. Residents had the chance to look at the renderings that were laid out on tables and submit comments to the DOT on the bridge options.

In 2017, Islamorada Village Council members passed a resolution requesting FDOT and the U.S. Department of Transportation to consider replacing the Snake Creek bridge with a fixed bridge or tunnel to improve traffic flow. FDOT agreed to conduct a feasibility study.

“We’re at a very early stage of the project. These options, if we move forward, need further study,” said FDOT Project Manager Hong Benitez. “Right now, the purpose is to rule out flaws.”

For example, the tunnel idea has been ruled out as a viable option due to water depth and environmental concerns. Remaining options were all high-level bridge concepts. Some differences between renderings include length of the bridge, clearance and moving the weigh station up north and to the center. Public Works Director A.J. Engelmeyer noted that three of the four options presented have potential for traffic lights. The rendering without the light potential showed a roundabout at Venetian Shores. Engelmeyer, too, said that this project is in the very early stages.

“These (options) aren’t, ‘it’s either this or this,’ it’s just the initial ideas,” he said. “It’s a feasibility study, and ‘what room do we have to work with and what can we actually do.’ There’s always the option to do nothing.”

Mayor Deb Gillis and Hong Benitez, FDOT project manager, were busy speaking with residents during the public input session regarding the Snake Creek Bridge feasibility study.

Mayor Deb Gillis said there will be many more meetings regarding the Snake Creek bridge. She reiterated that the project’s not happening today.

“This is just the beginning of conversations,” she said.

Vice Mayor Mike Forster said there aren’t any takings of businesses with the project, but there are businesses near the right of way that will be affected. Forster said those businesses along U.S. 1 either benefit from leasing that FDOT right of way, or FDOT has “just looked the other way and has allowed them to use it.”

“The minute (FDOT) takes them away, some of the businesses will open their front door and they’d be lucky if a car doesn’t hit that front door when it opens,” he said. “Day-to-day business as we know it is going to be totally impacted.”

Forster went on to say he likes the idea of the weigh station in the center lane, but he’d like to see it go further north, between MM 106-108.

Overall, Forster noted how important it is for the public to get out and get informed.

“I know FDOT spent a lot of money on these drawings, but again, everybody has to be educated. Show up, stand up and get informed.”

Benitez said comments from the public will be taken into account as FDOT works to complete a report by the end of July.

“We want to present to the public because we want to hear what people are saying,” she said.

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