For a moment, it seemed like Islamorada Village Council members might scrap plans for a pedestrian bridge at Founders Park and go with a less expensive alternative.
Ideas for a walkway over U.S. 1 have been discussed since 2014. Plans were approved earlier this year by the village council, with the bridge set to go up in November 2019 to provide a safe crossing and relieve congestion during events.

But after Mayor Chris Sante put a discussion item on the Sept. 27 meeting agenda, it seemed as though those plans might go in reverse. Community members had mixed opinions at the meeting, and council members didn’t need to vote on the bridge, but did so to make their stances clear and give Village Manager Seth Lawless direction for the Florida Department of Transportation. FDOT is funding the $3 million project and released renderings in July.

“Was the drawing beautiful? Well, not really,” said councilman Jim Mooney. “It’s an engineer for crying out loud – they draw structures.”

Further, he said it’s not about aesthetics, but safety.

“If we don’t do it today, it’s not going to be done. And then everybody that said no, God bless you when the body bags are out there. I hate to say it. People have died out there, absolutely, over the years.”

Mayor Chris Sante said he had come to the meeting adamant to vote against the bridge.

“But after hearing all the conversations, as much as I don’t like the bridge, the fact is, if one person got hurt out there I’ll feel really bad,” he said.

Councilwoman Deb Gillis voted against it, citing the opinions of community members. Out of 12 public speakers at the meeting, four spoke against the bridge and said it will be too costly to maintain or were disappointed in the design. Six spoke in favor of it for safety reasons, and two spoke in favor of alternative designs, like a temporary bridge or a tunnel under the road.

The council voted 4-1 for Lawless to give FDOT a thumbs-up for the bridge, and time is of the essence, he said.

“They have a request for proposals and they want to get it out by the end of the year, plus they have three or four levels of review,” he said.

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