Four seats are up for grabs on the Islamorada dais in this year’s election with current council members either running for other offices, terming out or choosing not to seek re-election. As a result, new faces will be seen come November.
Each week, the Upper Keys Weekly will pose a question to each candidate in the race on a village issue. Candidates have the opportunity to respond to the question in 100 words or less.
This week, the question surrounds one of the major problems seen in the village during the busy months, holidays and weekends out of the year — traffic. Backups in the village are witnessed as far north as Plantation Key, where two lanes of traffic merge into one near MM 90, and as far south as the Fills, where people pull off or look out at the pristine water.
With lines of traffic come impatient drivers, who jump off U.S. 1 onto the Old Highway to cut the line, only to get back onto the main highway to create more problems. Monroe County sheriff’s deputies stay busy on the Old Highway as they pull over cars for speeding, passing illegally and blowing through stop signs.
Also adding to the congestion is the Snake Creek Bridge, which stops cars for minutes to let bigger boats pass through. Vehicles have even been stopped for more than a half-hour due to bridge malfunctions.
Many village residents plan for the busy weekends and holidays by going to the grocery store before the swarm of vehicles arrives, or else they’re fighting traffic.
What’s a specific proposal or plan you’d bring forth to alleviate some of the traffic congestion through Islamorada? (Answers are as submitted.)
The question of lessening traffic congestion in Islamorada is difficult because of the linear layout of our islands. We can’t add feeder roads to one side or the other of U.S. 1. The “old road” should have signs saying “Local Traffic Only.” As long as the tourist advertising agency for Key West and the Florida Keys continues with the ads, we will have traffic issues. Five-and-a-half million people travel to the Keys each year, which will only increase. After all, we are a tourist economy.
The safety of residents and prevention of accidents should be our priority. The main traffic congestion usually occurs between MM 85 and MM 90, our schools, many of our churches, the weight station, drawbridge are all in this area of Plantation Key. I would propose to work with federal and state agencies, in creating turn lanes into and out of neighborhoods, which would have a calming effect on the traffic and congestion. Possibly more stop signs throughout our islands, in addition to slowing down, also staggers the clumps of traffic, giving drivers safer opportunities to make those left turns. A water taxi service would be a great way for both residents and visitors to get around and enjoy the beautiful marine environment.
We must leverage state and federal relationships to incentivize bringing more flights from the mainland into Marathon and Key West so that more cars can be taken off the road. It may also be prudent to explore the feasibility of water taxi services or alternative modes of mass transportation; and make the necessary changes to our zoning code to restrict high-density projects and vacation rentals that increase traffic and activity.
I would like to designate each of the three sections of the Old Highway on Plantation, Windley, and Upper Matecumbe Keys for “Local Traffic Only” to prevent traffic delays and hazards caused by pass through drivers who use the Old Highway as a shortcut around slower traffic on U.S. 1. This would require an enforcement plan, especially during periods of heavy use, and the expenses would be paid for by violators. Also, adding a deceleration lane for popular destinations, such as World Wide Sportsman, would prevent a slow down by vehicles turning right.
For local traffic, and for those visiting Islamorada, encourage alternative means of transportation, like the Freebie, and investigate the feasibility of a park and ride program at the DOT property across from PostCard Inn. FDOT is already planning to replace Snake Creek bridge with a fixed span. At my request, they are reviewing making the light at Woods Avenue pedestrian-activated when school is out, eliminating part of the reason southbound traffic backs up there. This will also make it safer for people to cross the highway afternoons and weekends. Limit the Old Road to local traffic only. A toll on U.S. 1.
The problems are the worst by far on weekends… especially southbound on Friday and northbound on Sunday. Perhaps we can work with the chamber, TDC and resorts to find a solution to the weekend tourists and day trippers… 4-day minimums? The school buses cause significant backups and the MDT buses from Florida City. We need safe areas where buses can pull off to allow traffic to pass in our two-lane part of town, like the pull off near Publix. A fixed bridge at Snake Creek may help but I hate to think of the years of construction backups. No passing on the Fill would reduce accidents.
Part of the traffic problem in Islamorada is created by motorists using the Old Road as a bypass for U.S. 1, creating additional choke points when the roads re-merge (seen regularly by Puerto Vallarta Restaurant.) Nationwide DOT studies have shown the efficacy of speed humps to reduce speed by 40% for most vehicles. Making the entire Old Road a no-passing zone with permanent and consistent strict enforcement signage, and installing speed humps, would make travel animated and uncomfortable at speeds more than 3-4 mph above the posted 30 mph limit. These actions should reduce choke points and remind motorists to Respect Islamorada.
The maddening traffic congestion routinely experienced by village residents is generated by multiple sources. The most significant source of our local traffic is the revolving door of visitors staying in legal and illegal residential rentals. Typically, renters make numerous daily trips to provision for their stay, eat out, visit attractions, frequent the bars and shop for souvenirs. The village council has the ability to reduce traffic by addressing the residential rental issue by either limiting or eliminating the practice. The Islamorada residents have the ability to select candidates for the council that will accept the challenge to do so.