The traffic report commissioned by the county identified the Whale Harbor Channel Bridge area in Islamorada as a hot mess in terms of congestion. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

At the Aug. 18 meeting of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, the four board members present unanimously resolved to ask Florida’s Department of Transportation to step in and help the county with solutions for the hot mess that is the traffic situation on U.S. 1. The resolution was taken after reviewing a traffic study that was conducted in March by consulting firm AECOM.

“​​This is what it is, and it’s still awfully bad,” said Commissioner Craig Cates after listening to AECOM’s presentation. “Could someone explain this to me? Islamorada seems to be where a lot of problems are.”

One possible answer? Missing mile marker signs.

“Recently, I’ve heard from the Upper Keys that some of our mile marker signs have disappeared,” said Commissioner David Rice. “And frankly it’s an odd thing … and as a result, people who are looking for an address, who I guess don’t have GPS, are slowing down, impeding traffic while they’re looking visually for a number on a building.Their recommendation was to replace mile marker signs and even replace them at the half mile to avoid slowing down traffic.”

“Half mile markers? That’s a fantastic idea,” responded Commissioner Eddie Martinez, who pointed out that the zero mile marker sign in Key West disappears at least once a month.

“That’s because there are a lot of college dorm rooms decorated with mile marker signs,” joked Mayor Michelle Coldiron.

AECOM conducted the traffic study for two weeks in March 2021 by placing control stations to measure speed at 24 points along U.S. 1, from Key Largo to Key West. This study is conducted every two years. The firm discovered that the overall speed on U.S. 1 was 45.5 mph, a drop from 46 mph in 2017.

The worst area for traffic congestion? Islamorada. And it’s gotten worse over four years. In March, the highway from Tea Table Bridge to Whale Harbor Bridge had a median speed of 35.3 mph, which was a drop from the median speed recorded in 2017 of 39.2 mph. In March, Whale Harbor Bridge to Snake Creek Bridge had a median speed of 39.3 mph. The speed recorded in the area in 2017 was 41.0.

An endangered species? Mile marker signs have been disappearing throughout the Keys, possibly slowing down drivers who are looking for addresses. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

Other hot spots for lower recorded speeds? Plantation Key, Lower Matecumbe and Duck Key.

However, Stock Island experienced an increase in speed, from a median speed of 29.4 in 2017 to 40 mph recorded in 2021. The highest recorded speed was on Boca Chica, with a median speed of 59.9 mph.

Some of AECOM’s suggestions to help congestion include: improve transit services, add turn lanes to improve traffic flow and consolidate driveways to reduce interruptions.

But County Administrator Roman Gastesi pointed out that FDOT is just waiting to be asked officially to step in and help with projects to help with congestion.

“​​The resolution would go a long way toward what we need,” he said, explaining that the official assigned to Monroe County is Stacy L. Miller, who is serving as FDOT District Six Secretary.

“Very good,” Rice said. “I’d love to see her in person, but she may want to avoid the traffic.”

“We have high hopes for Stacy,” said Coldiron.
With that, the commissioners unanimously voted for a Resolution of Support to FDOT to institute traffic flow improvement projects at congestion areas identified by the traffic study.

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines;; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.