Life in paradise is beautiful, but traffic…not so much

Emily Schemper, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about issues facing the county.

Traffic is always an issue in the Keys.

Schemper said, “I just wanted to give an update on what actually happened last week at the BCC meeting with the 2023 traffic study. The board did review the 2023 travel time and delay study, as we call it. We do that every two years to check the day to day operations of the roadway with US 1. They gather the data during the high season. So it’s during March and this year’s study did show that the overall level of service on US 1 was not meeting its adopted standard, which is a level of service speed. That’s an average travel speed of 45 miles per hour up and down the highway. However, the traffic consultants that we contracted to that study did note that there were excessive construction delays, that’s how they phrased it compared to the last study. They even were able to quantify that and explain it a bit.”

In 2021, over two weeks, there were about two hours and 15 minutes of construction delay. This year, they had four and a half hours of construction delay.

Schemper said, “That’s just the time period when they’re able to note that it’s due to construction. But as we all know as you’re approaching a construction zone, you may not even know its construction, yet things are already slowing down. So they attributed even more time to construction delays than what they were able to quantify there. They also said that the traffic signals created more than twice the delay that they had in the previous study in 2021. Both of those are things that are not purely congestion related. So they’re things where the signals can be timed differently. The construction, they actually collected data during the week that Islamorada had three water main breaks. So some unexpected things. So what happened last week at the board meeting is that the board decided to keep using the 2021 study results for now. And in March of 2024, we’ll redo the data collection on a number of segments that were affected by construction, where the signals are currently, they’re already starting to adjust the signal timing. FDOT is working on that. Some smart technology has been installed up and down the Keys called the Keys Coast Project. That should help also to improve flow in certain areas. So we’re going to recollect some data. The traffic consultant will update this year’s study based on new data, and we’ll see if it shows a different result. So this will be coming back to the board next year, probably the end of the summer, rather than waiting a full two years.”

If this year’s study had been adopted by the commissioners, what would it have done?

Schemper said, “It doesn’t completely halt development per se, but it requires any development other than a single family home, that would increase the number of trips on US 1, to mitigate for those trips. So whether that’s installing a turn lane somewhere, or doing something to reduce the trips coming in and out of their site. So if it’s a large employer, maybe they provide a bus service for their employees. That’s a simple example. But they have to do something to mitigate that extra traffic on the highway, because the highway is technically having zero capacity for it to keep its level of service. So it does become complicated when it’s best for the overall length of US 1. I think the board, they’re trying to weigh the fact that yes, we’re all talking about traffic, we all know that traffic is getting worse. When do we actually cross that line to say that we’re not meeting the level of service? So they’re trying to weigh all the factors. They don’t want to ignore it, but they also want to make sure that we’re not counting water main breaks into our day to day level of service count.”

The study only goes through Stock Island and is only for day to day.

Schemper said, “It’s not for the hurricane evacuation modeling, which is a separate topic. Florida Commerce announced last week that they will be hosting two webinars to talk about the hurricane evacuation modeling. You may remember they had some in person meetings, some workshops in June here and the Keys. Now they have their draft results, apparently, so they are hosting two purely online webinars. One is today from 3 to 4. The other is on Thursday, the 16th from 2 to 3. I have not been able to find on their website, the links to the meetings, but we are going to post them on our own Monroe County website and we’ll put a link out on the Facebook feed that our public information officer is so great at updating. So we’ll make sure those links are out there. I encourage people to tune in. They’re going to have the draft results which of course affects hurricane evacuation, but it also plays into our rate of growth restriction. So are we getting more permits for more houses? Are we not? What is the status? Staff here at the county, we don’t know exactly what those draft results are yet. We have not seen it. So we will be tuning in as well to see what’s going on.”

The county will also meet with FDOT soon, as well.

Schemper said, “Our transit director Richard Clark, is going along for that, because he’s trying to get more public transit in the works up and down the Keys, make it more efficient and make it more desirable, because that will definitely help alleviate traffic, too, if we can get more transit running.”

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