Meeting set for Thursday at Hawks Cay Resort

It’s no secret that the four little bridges on Duck Key are in need of repair. Built in 1955, they may qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. On Thursday, at 5:30 p.m., the residents of Duck Key are invited to meet with Monroe County officials to discuss repair and/or replacement.

“We want the bridges to be safe. We want them to be fixed. But the historical value of those arches is also important,” said Fritz Anderson, a Duck Key resident.

The report highlights the bridges’ design deficiencies, familiar to anybody who has ever driven across them. They are crumbling above and below the waterline. They are narrow. They are steep, making it difficult to see what’s coming. There’s no shoulder and while the cement balustrades are very pretty, they are not crash-tested. Most importantly, there’s no room for pedestrians – although that doesn’t stop residents and visitors from crossing them on foot regularly.

The county recently released an engineering report authored by Kisinger Campo & Associates, to augment another report from 2014. The new report outlines multiple “alternatives,” ranging from a straight refurbishment to refurbishment plus adding a pedestrian bridge to complete replacement. The last option calls for the 25-foot-wide bridge to be widened to 33 or 42 feet, depending on whether there would be one sidewalk or two, and for the ornamental balustrade to be replaced with a more industrial option.

The meeting on Thursday is to gather public opinion.

Judith Clark, Monroe County’s director of engineering, said the county plans to assess the input from the public, historic preservation officials and the Coast Guard. (The Coast Guard, actually, will have the final say as the bridges cross canals with heavy boat traffic.)

“From an engineering perspective, (just refurbishing the bridge) is my least preferred option because it does not address the safety issue created by the narrow width and no sidewalk,” Clark said.

If the process goes smoothly — agreement from all the parties, and funds are forthcoming for design and engineering — two of the bridges could be under construction in early 2018 and take a year to complete.

Some Duck Key residents, though, are expressing concern over changes to the aesthetics of the bridges, reportedly designed after those in Venice at the time they were constructed in 1955. The distinctive balustrades and decorative pineapples, especially, are near and dear to the hearts of homeowners. At least one alternative calls for “Texas Railing” —stainless steel cable barriers strung horizontally between posts.

“There’s a very thin line between refurbishments and replacement. If you do too much, then you have to make more changes to meet all of the current guidelines,” Anderson said. “I want to remind officials that this is a residential community that is almost built out. We don’t want the bridges over-engineered, but we want to feel safe.” 

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