Begin working on local access

By Steve Estes

In what seems to be another attempt to just simply put off the hard decisions, the Monroe Board of County Commissioners was given some preferred options this week for keeping the level of vehicular service on US 1 at a level acceptable to the state.

Level of service calculates how well traffic flows through the Keys, getting our tourists and locals out and around these bridge-linked islands.

That LOS has been dropping slightly and steadily for two decades, even though the state Department of Transportation has performed several traffic-flow enhancement projects during the course of that time.

For many years, the county has analyzed vehicular level of service by breaking the length of US 1 into smaller segments of a few miles in most cases. Each of those segments must meet the lowest level of concurrency or the individual segment can face a building moratorium for everything as happened on Big Pine Key for eight years in the 1990s.

And right now, about a half dozen of the individual segments are working their way toward an eventual moratorium.

So what the commission got as a recommendation was to think about making a county-wide level of service the new standard so that traffic flow wouldn’t hinder what little single-family residential building can take place because traffic won’t flow as fast as the state would like.

Engineers for years have said that the only way to eventually solve the level of service issue regarding traffic flow is to find ways to add more road.

Whether adding more road was to be done on US 1 or off US 1 on county roads has long been a matter of contentious debate. The county’s comprehensive land use plan urges no more adding of lanes to US 1. Engineers agree that adding lanes would be problematic anyway because eventually every segment ends in a two-lane bridge.

FDOT has never shown an inclination to add more lanes to the county’s bridges on US 1, mostly due to the cost of doing that.

If the BOCC decides to change the way LOS is calculated, it wouldn’t alleviate the problem of crappy traffic flow on certain segments of the highway. Those problems would continue, and probably get worse because a county-wide LOS would allow for tens of thousands of trips to be added on the highway before LOS becomes an issue.

Adding 1,000 trips in some areas would mean that traffic would be in an almost perpetual state of stagnation and the people in those areas, people who need to get to work, or school, or local events, would have to find alternate routes or add time to the trip to get where they need to be.

Shades of Miami-Dade.

But this isn’t Miami-Dade and there are very few places where there is an alternate route to go more than a few miles anywhere in the Keys.

Most of the Liveable Communi-Keys Plans that have been completed or discussed in the last 10 years have had a traffic improvement component.

For instance, on Big Pine, there was an effort to establish a cross-island road that was beaten by intense public outcry. But there was also an approved enhancement to establish a reverse-direction access road on the west end of the island that would be similar to the access road already available on the east end, allowing local residents to run their necessary errands on island without the need to get into US 1 traffic.

Money killed that plan.

Whatever solution is found in the long run is going to cost some money, and it’s going to make some people unhappy.

That is the hard decision that will eventually have to be made.

Our elected leadership needs to start with a hard look at the areas where LOS really stinks and come up with methods to use county roads to alleviate that situation.

Yes, it will be expensive. Yes, it might upset a few people. But that is the only long-term solution, according to traffic engineers over the years.

We don’t ask that the county ignore the tweaks and other improvement suggestions, but that they explore those along with long-term fixes.

Seems like the smart thing to do.

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