LACK OF TRANSPARENCY: THE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE
Advocates of open government and transparency in Islamorada are optimistic that the new council elected in November 2020 hears their concerns.
Providing reams of documents for public viewing may feel like the very definition of transparency, until we realize one critical document was left out of the stack.
Is this what happened with Islamorada’s Pedestrian Bridge?
Did the public ever see the 120-page Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Feasibility Study of September 2016 that on page two warned:
“A permanent pedestrian bridge is not warranted based on the expected usage at
the five locations reviewed. Even at Founders Park in Islamorada (MM ±87), the
location with the highest total annual event attendance, constructing a permanent
pedestrian bridge is not warranted, with an estimated construction cost of $1,211,000.”
Click here to read entire 2016 Feasibility Study (See Executive Summary at the beginning with the above statement)
After that 2016 feasibility study, most would conclude that a pedestrian bridge would no longer be contemplated. But, there were folks lobbying behind the scenes and soon a permanent fixed bridge was designed by FDOT and approved by the Islamorada Village Council with little public debate. The bridge would have two elevators. According to the 2016 Feasibility study, the maintenance cost would be 1% per year of the original fixed cost. The past council approved an agreement for the village to maintain the bridge surfaces, railings and elevators. By 2020, FDOT’s cost for constructing the bridge had increased from $1.2 million to nearly $5 million. The 1% estimate in the 2016 feasibility study would mean a $50,000 per year maintenance expense for the Village.
New Councilman Henry Rosenthal has been determined to assure residents of Islamorada have a voice on this issue. He was able to obtain the feasibility study through a Department of Transportation public records request and got the issue back before the new council with their fresh viewpoints.
His statement at the July 14, 2021 meeting was eloquent, and convincing:
Click here to read Councilman Rosenthal's entire statement.
“To my fellow Council members:
I know it is RIGHT that elected officials place the best interest of their community above their own personal agendas.
I know it is RIGHT that elected officials seek guidance from objective, credible sources.
I know it is WRONG for public officials to withhold pertinent information from their constituents.”
At the January 14, 2021 Village Council meeting, a remarkable thing happened. The all new council listened to the parade of residents who appeared before the council, virtually, to poignantly describe their despair with the planned bridge. And this council listened carefully.
Click here to read a typical public comment from a village resident.
Following the extraordinary statement from Henry, public comment from residents and discussion, the council voted 5-0 to support his effort. A letter was sent to Governor Ron DeSantis asking him to halt construction of the $4.68 million Florida Department of Transportation pedestrian bridge project at the entrance to Founders Park. FDOT responded; indeed, it would halt the project since it lacked public support.
Henry Rosenthal ran for council on one issue -- opposing the pedestrian bridge. Success in three months on council is remarkable. Also positive is -- thanks to the ground swell of interest and support for his view -- residents know much more about the proposed bridge project and the impact it would have on our community.
The new council gives us new faith and hope!
If you have any ideas or comments regarding this issue, please send them to info@Islamorada.org