A project to get pedestrians safely across U.S. 1 in Islamorada is set for construction this May. Concerns are arising, however, over the costs associated with the Founders Park Pedestrian Bridge at MM 87, specifically over utilities needing to be adjusted to accommodate the elevated walkway.
Founders Park hosts Gigantic Nautical Flea Market, 4th of July festivities and Holiday Fest — all of which see high turnouts, many cars up and down the road and people crossing safely thanks to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. But the area also sees heavy traffic backups.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s project, now estimated at $4.4 million, will construct a permanent elevated pedestrian bridge over U.S. 1. With reconstruction and realigning of the asphalt trail also come pedestrian connections to the elevator and stairs at the bridge. Roadside barrier walls will be installed and existing paved shoulders will be widened.
The project is creating some conflicts as it relates to utilities that need to be moved, and it brings a cost to the shareholders of the Florida Key Electric Cooperative. FKEC’s overhead and underground facilities are located on the north edge of the FDOT right-of-way next to Founders Park. Per FKEC, they’re in conflict with FDOT’s permanent pedestrian bridge. As a result, rough estimates show that it could cost anywhere from $950,000 to $1.1 million to reconfigure overhead and underground facilities, including a transmission line and underground ductwork and conductor.
More importantly, the price tag to move the infrastructure will not be reimbursed by FDOT, per FKEC. It will be paid by FKEC’s members. FKEC is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric utility that serves the Upper and Middle Keys. FKEC says costs are estimates since the final engineering is not finished and the work will be bid out.
Mayor Mike Forster told the Weekly he recently became aware of costs that weren’t anticipated in what was originally a pedestrian bridge project estimated between $1.7 million and $2.9 million. Forster says he’s looking to bring up the matter during Thursday’s village council meeting at Founders Park Community Center.
“I don’t think I can support it (the bridge project) any more,” Forster said. “Every person who’s a shareholder of our co-op is on the hook to pay for this moving cost.”
“It was a good idea with the right intentions, but now it’s not fiscally responsible to spend millions for a few events we have, even though I think it’s a great thing for our park,” he continued. To quantify the dollars the co-op has to pay, I just can’t support it.”
Among the other utilities affected are the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s piping. Julie Cheon, public information manager, confirmed that 18-inch piping will need to be moved. Costs won’t be absorbed by users, however, due to a pre-existing agreement for an easement.
“FDOT will be paying for the costs incurred,” she said. “It’s an easement that goes back to the ’40s.”
The estimated cost to move piping wasn’t immediately available.
In October 2018, Islamorada council approved plans for a pedestrian bridge. The vote was 4-1, with councilwoman Deb Gillis voting against after hearing community members’ opinions. Of those speaking who were opposed, some noted that it would be too costly.
“My concern before was the cost, and it wasn’t even $2 million then. It was less than that,” she said. “The constituents I spoke with really didn’t want it.”
Talks among local mayors over pedestrian safety and getting people across U.S. 1 to festivals arose five years ago. What went from a possible mobile pedestrian crosswalk for use from Key Largo to Key West turned into the idea for a pilot program. The targeted spot for the bridge turned out to be Islamorada and Founders Park.
In August 2015, studies were conducted on possible pedestrian improvements at MM 90 near Coral Shores High School and Plantation Key School, Founders Park, North Roosevelt Boulevard and Bessie Road and U.S. 1. An elevated crosswalk for Founders was approved in August 2016. A year later, three bridge configurations were presented.
“All mayors agreed since I was the one who brought it forward, that Founders would be best,” said Forster. “Back then, FDOT did a rating of who’s most deserving, and they had Founders at the top even though PKS and Coral Shores I thought were most deserving because of use. They said there wasn’t enough property for that. The only choice was Founders.”
With costs skyrocketing, Forster said it’s time to hit the brakes.
“I know I’m one of five votes, but it might be good to slow down the engineering and the extra costs until we talk,” he said.
- Reconstructing and realigning the asphalt trail to provide pedestrian connections to the elevator and stairs at the bridge
- Widening and reconstructing the existing paved shoulders
- Constructing roadside barrier walls
- Modifying the swales and improving drainage
- Installing an asphalt path connection within the right-of-way for Old Highway 4A