State transportation officials on Wednesday proposed a partnership with Monroe County, Marathon and local nonprofit groups to split the costs of renovating the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
By the Florida Department of Transportation's (FDOT) own cost estimates, bridge repairs will cost $66 million over the next 30 years.
Currently, people can walk the portion of the 100-year-old bridge between Pigeon Key and Marathon, but vehicle traffic is prohibited.
FDOT initially estimated that major renovation projects would cost $18 million, if the state agency wanted to hand over Henry Flagler's historic railroad bridge in good shape. The state would have split that $18 million cost with the county, officials said.
However, the county had its own expert, Nelson Canjua, review bridge inspection reports, and he estimated that it would cost $79 million to repair the bridge.
FDOT has since reviewed Canjua's report and physically inspected the bridge. State officials told county commissioners on Wednesday it would cost $66 million to repair the bridge. FDOT disagreed with Canjua on whether the decking and support and floor beams needed to be replaced and repaired, shaving several million dollars off the repair estimate.
"With annual maintenance costs and painting, we are still talking about a lot of costs," FDOT Secretary Anath Prasad told commissioners.
"We are looking at those costs to see what you can contribute. Annual maintenance costs should be borne by the county. We are looking at a concept of shared responsibility."
Commissioners and the general public have been divided over whether the county should assume ownership of the bridge and bear the long-term maintenance costs.
Prasad talked about the county or Marathon having "skin in the game." He asked commissioners and county staff to come back to FDOT by the end of the year with how much money the county would pay for renovations.
"We need to get a point of certainty by the end of the year," Prasad said.
Commissioner George Neugent thanked Prasad and his staff for the report and input and acknowledged the need for a partnership.
"We need to sit down with all the stakeholders and discuss this," Neugent said.