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Seven Mile Bridge – Is the Seven Mile Bridge on the Florida Keys worth a visit?
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Seven Mile Bridge – Is the Seven Mile Bridge on the Florida Keys worth a visit? 

Our first encounter with the Seven Mile Bridge was on the first day of our Florida Keys trip. We left Miami in a brand new Toyota Camry with only 5,000 miles on the road, which we rented from Alamo (booked in advance, best price from Rentalcars). And after 3 hours of leisurely driving we were already at our destination.

The new bridge

After driving through the town of Marathon on the Overseas Highway we stopped at the parking lot around the corner just before the bridge. Here we discovered that there are actually two bridges – an old one on the U.S. Register of Historic Places that leads to Pigeon Key Island (several spans removed for the passage of tall ships on the Mauser Canal), and a new one, taller and more grandiose.

The modern 7-mile bridge, built in 1982, is the longest bridge on the Florida Keys, but today it is far from the longest bridges in the world. It consists of 440 concrete sections and has a total length of 6.79 miles (10931 m), slightly shorter than the old bridge.

The large size is a major advantage of the new 7-Mile Bridge over the old one next door, where oncoming cars had difficulty separating and drivers were constantly stressed. And it is so inherent in all things American that they increase in size over time. Take modern American coffee cups as an example and compare them to cups from the last century.

The new Seven Mile Bridge has two lanes and is wide enough to allow cars to travel both ways at the same time and have the ability to stop on the side of the road in case of an emergency. You can now enjoy the beauty of the scenery over the green waters on the way to Key West. Meanwhile, wide American cars and even big trucks can freely drive on the bridge, like the recently built bridge between the island-airport and the capital city in the Maldives.

Interesting fact about the 7 Mile Bridge: The new bridge carries utility lines with fiber-optic communication cables and water lines to bring fresh water to Key West and other Florida Keys.

The Old Bridge

The next morning, after a wonderful stay at the best Hyatt Place hotel on the big island in the town of Marathon in the middle of the Florida Keys, we took another tour of the old Seven Mile Bridge to see it from a different perspective.

After driving over the new Seven Mile Bridge, we again parked the car just behind it and headed for the historic landmark. On this side, the entrance to the bridge appeared to be open to the public 24 hours a day, which we were very happy about, and the entrance was completely free.

The old 7-mile bridge is 6.77 miles (10,888 m) long and was built in 1912 for the railroad that ran along the east coast of Florida from Jacksonville through the towns of St. Augustine, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, it immediately became known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” because at the time it was an ultramodern and extremely ambitious infrastructure project. There was nothing like it in the world at the time, and building a concrete bridge between reef islands in an unpredictable tropical climate was a real challenge.

Trains ran over the 7-mile bridge until 1935, when the Great Labor Day Hurricane hit Florida, causing many casualties and destroying almost everything on the Florida Keys. Because the owner had no money to rebuild the damaged bridge spans, he had to sell the section of railroad to the United States government.

After a detailed investigation of the damage, it was decided, for safety reasons, to dismantle the rails and build a highway in their place. The 7-mile bridge was widened and automobile traffic was opened on it in 1938.

Today, however, its time is irrevocably gone, and we noticed that only herons and pelicans enjoy using the abandoned spans of the old 7 Mile Bridge to catch fish. Locals like to bike or roller-bike across the well-maintained southern end of the bridge (part of the Overseas Heritage Trail State Park), or go for a morning jog or a spin fishing session.

Meanwhile, the old bridge is slowly deteriorating due to the effects of salt water and wind. To preserve it and protect it for future generations, the Friends of Old Seven Community was created in 2011, whose members assist authorities and monitor the condition and safety of the Seven Mile Bridge infrastructure to ensure that it remains suitable for world-class ecotourism.

Differences between the old and new Seven Mile Bridge

  • The old Seven Mile Bridge is longer and the new Seven Mile Bridge is wider.
  • Compared to the old bridge, the new Seven Mile Bridge has an arc-shaped elevation over the Mauser Canal for passage of ships up to 20 meters high. Several sections of the old bridge (now missing) were swinging, allowing seagoing vessels to cross the bridge.
  • The new bridge is located next to Pigeon Key, while the old bridge crossed it.
  • The 3.5-kilometer portion of the old bridge, ending with a dismantled section over the sea, is open to pedestrians and cyclists. And no pedestrian traffic is allowed on the new bridge.

The 7 Mile Bridge Run

Already back in Miami in the evening, we happened to learn that every year in late March and early April, the new bridge hosts a Saturday Seven Mile Bridge Run to commemorate the opening of the bridge in 1982.

The bridge is completely closed to traffic for about 2.5 to 3 hours during the run.
The Seven Mile Bridge Run is open to all pre-registered runners.

Our review

So, we’re slowly getting to the answer to the question, what is it worth coming to the 7 Mile Bridge for?

We’ve looked at it from all angles and even walked around it a bit, and we can safely say that if you’re not a fan of engineering structures like Hoover Dam, you can safely skip it and not waste your time. You won’t see anything unusual there.

Although you can still stop at the bridge for 5-10 minutes and take beautiful pictures. After all, there aren’t too many landmarks in the Florida Keys to throw around. Here’s a good way to stretch your legs on the way from Miami to Key West, and get some fresh sea air at the same time.

But for those who like to travel leisurely, we recommend scheduling an hour or so for your bridge tour and walk. If you decide to stay in the city of Marathon, it’s especially helpful to walk the Seven Mile Bridge after breakfast at the hotel, and for sunset it’s best to go to the Faro Blanco Lighthouse or Sombrero Beach. That’s exactly what we did.

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