Historic Seven Mile Bridge to Florida Keys open to cyclists, runners, walkers

Photo credit: Julia Sanbe

The historic 7 mile bridge, better known as the “Old Seven,” has reopened following a major $44 million dollar restoration that commenced in 2016.

Located in Florida’s vacation hub of Key West, this picturesque, kodak-moment worthy structure which has greeted many tourists and achieved Hollywood stardom for its appearances in the blockbuster hit movies—1989 James Bond, “Licence to kill” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1994 “True Lies,” finally returned to the public on Jan 12, 2022.

Here at UM, the excitement is hard to hide.

Student Zoe Manz, a junior majoring in ecosystem science and policy, has been longing for the return of Old Seven since it’s closing in 2016.

“I live in Marathon where the 7-mile bridge is,” Manz said. “Everyone kind of forgot how nice it was to be able to walk there and see the sunset and the water.”

“I went and visited the bridge a couple days after the reopening before I came back up here to UM and it was a lot of fun. I walked there with my family, it was a good time seeing everyone walking on the bridge,” Manz continued.

Built in 1912, “Old Seven” spans 2.2 miles connecting the Middle Keys in Marathon FL, to a small island beneath the bridge called Pigeon Key. It essentially bridges the lower keys to the upper keys.

Old Seven is one of two bridges in Marathon as it precedes the contemporaneous “Seven Mile” that was built in 1982. The Seven Mile is currently open to automobiles while Old Seven is not. At the time of its arrival in the early 80s, it served as a smoother, wider, and higher replacement.

The two bridges parallel each other and are considered to be amongst the longest bridges in existence.

Madeline Wagner, a senior majoring in marine affairs and ecosystem science and policy with a minor in sustainable business, was enthralled by the Old Seven’s length when she visited.

“The structure of the bridge is just fascinating in ways that are obvious; it’s 7 miles long. I know my family took a trip to the keys just to drive across the 7 mile bridge.” Wagner said.

“It’s a Florida Keys treasure,” Wagner continued.

Originally built as a Key West extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida’s East Coast Railway, Old Seven was converted to a highway (Overseas Highway) in 1938, after the labor day hurricane of 1935, devastated the Keys section of the railroad.

But, by 2008, the bridge had accumulated ample wear and tear, posing potential dangers to automobile transportation. The Florida Department of Transportation since then limited the Bridge’s use strictly to recreational activities such as biking, skating, and walking.

The prohibition of cars from the structure invited locals and tourists to make Old Seven a spot of congregation and family fun.

Popular activities include group runs, family bike rides and slow strolls accompanied by captivating sunsets, and magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Manz reminisces on her childhood memories at Old Seven.

“When I was little, my mom would tell me stories of how she’d put me in a stroller and she and her friends would walk along the bridge with me. I used to go running on the bridge in high school with my sister,” Manz said.

Manz feels like she can speak for the community on the bridge shaping pivotal memories for locals.

“I feel like people that grew up living in the keys definitely have memories associated with the bridge,” Manz continued.

However, rusty railings, structural breakings, and decking failures appeared by 2016, fueling the need for a renovation of the landmark.

With state funding and a generous pitch-in of $2.7 million from Monroe County, the project began.

Locals and tourists have taken full advantage of this landmark over the years and more memories are to be made following the bridge’s reopening.

“It’s a really unique and fun place for people to gather, you see groups running on the bridge, friends riding bikes, tourists that walk over from a restaurant or like taking photos of the sunset.” Manz said.

“It’s just a really cool place that just kinda brings people together,” Manz continued.

Rather than rebuilding, the Old Seven was restored, preserving it’s rich historic appeal, just with a fresher feel and safer structure.

Wagner believes it was a virtuous decision to restore the Old Seven.

“Restoration preserves the nostalgia of a landmark,” Wagner said. “You wouldn’t rebuild the Statue of Liberty, you would restore it. There is so much history and memory associated with the bridge, it would have done it a disservice to build from the ground up.”

The restoration job includes structural steel, concrete, and bridge joint repairs, new decking, pedestrian handrails and benches, and newly paved roads with convenient mile markings.

To the cyclists, runners, walkers, sunset chasers, and ocean-view enthusiasts, be sure to pay Old Seven a visit.