Nighttime traffic over Snake Creek Bridge will be affected — and literally stopped — beginning Sunday, Sept. 8, as the Florida Department of Transportation continues its ongoing rehab project.
FDOT says the closure’s happening so the contractor can clean and paint under the bridge deck. For motorists, truck drivers, and other late night drivers, there will be no crossing the bridge from 11:45 p.m. to 4 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. The project is expected to take three weeks to complete. During that time, drivers who need to cross the bridge and don’t make it in time will have to wait on either side of the bridge approach — for just over four hours — until notified by officers that they can proceed.
FDOT spokesperson Paulette Summers said the work is ready to begin.
“I spoke with our contractor and project staff and they are ready to start on Sept. 8,” she said. “It will take three weeks, barring any weather-related issues.”
In the event of an emergency, first responders will have the ability to cross to respond. There’s going to be a delay, however, since the bridge will be in an upright position as crews work.
“For us to transport south is a hike,” said Islamorada Fire Chief Terry Abel. “To lower the bridge takes considerable time and would increase numbers on closures because of lost time. It’s a balancing act.”
Marathon Fire and Rescue Chief John Johnson said patients from the Lower Keys Medical Center and Fishermen’s Hospital who would normally be transported via ambulance will have to be flown to the mainland on Trauma Star helicopters.
“It’s going to be the hospitals’ call — they know whether or not a patient can wait,” Johnson said.
While the closure will be an inconvenience to night drivers, Mayor Deb Gillis acknowledged that it could have been even more challenging if FDOT stuck with its original plan to close the bridge at 10:30 p.m. With the village and others chiming in, that time got pushed back 45 minutes.
“That wasn’t going to be very good,” Gillis said.
Vice Mayor Mike Forster said he inquired about closing one lane so traffic could alternate. FDOT came back and said it wasn’t possible. The owner of Mangrove Mike’s, Forster said the closure will affect his operation.
“I do have employees impacted by it. My opening cook and server come in at 5 a.m., and they come from over that bridge,” he said. “It’s going to be a matter of how far back in line before they come to work. It’s going to be what it is, but luckily, FDOT picked the slowest time of the year to do this.”
Gillis said if businesses have deliveries or employees who are coming to or from working during that timeframe, arrangements should be made to either allow them off work or to come in early.
“Make sure bus employees are on the 11 p.m. bus north, if possible. There’s a bus at 11:35, but if there’s any accidents or delays at all, odds are that bus won’t make the bridge and they’ll be stuck for four hours,” she said.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay, who frequently interacts with FDOT regarding projects in the Keys, said he opposes the bridge closure.
“Emergency vehicles will be allowed to pass, but it won’t be timely,” Ramsay said, adding that officials told him first-responders might have to wait up to a half hour before they can cross as workers move equipment out of the way, and bring the bridge down. He also said he has to have extra officers on duty during those three weeks and deputies working outside their normal jurisdictions.
“A police officer can’t wait a half hour for backup and the citizens can’t wait a half hour for a response to a call for service,” he said. “We’re just going to have to work around it.”
Ramsay’s office strongly urges all motorists to visit www.fdotmonroe.com before making any traveling plans. And drivers are encouraged to call 511 before they travel or log on to www.fl511.com to get real-time traffic and lane closure information.
Snake Creek Bridge was completed in 1981 when a number of new bridges were being built to modernize U.S. 1. The Snake Creek Bridge is the only drawbridge operating in the Florida Keys.
To minimize power outage times, Florida Keys Electric Co-op has crews in the Upper and Middle Keys on standby to restore power 24/7. Typically, whichever crew is closest to the power outage responds. However, during the FDOT Snake Creek Bridge Full Road Closure, any problems with electric service from Mile Marker 85 south to Marathon will be addressed by our Middle Keys on-call team. Depending on the location of the outage, response time could be delayed due to distance.