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Front Page » Top Stories » Wider Road To The Keys More Narrow Than Proponents Wish

Wider Road To The Keys More Narrow Than Proponents Wish

Written by on April 12, 2001

By Victor Cruz
The Florida Department of Transportation is preparing a recommendation for the governor to accept a widening of US 1 between Florida City and Key Largo.

Monroe County officials will consider the project on April 19.

The state’s effort to widen the 18-mile stretch of highway continued its momentum last week when state officials met with Monroe County representatives to carve out a compromise to an expansion plan approved March 22 by the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization, the inter-local group charged with evaluating transportation planning for the county.

State officials are likely to favor an expansion that is less than the 58 feet approved by the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization wanted state transportation department officials to recommend a plan featuring three lanes on a four-lane embankment with two lanes running north and one running south.

That plan was opposed by several Monroe County commissioners, the county mayor and South Florida environmental groups.

State transportation department officials came up with a compromise that calls for one each of southbound and northbound lanes as well as a northbound paved shoulder that would double as an emergency lane during hurricane evacuations.

The road — two-thirds of which is in Miami-Dade — has two lanes, one lane running north and one going south.

Federal, state and county permits for the project could be pulled as early as one year from now and construction could begin between two and three years, says Mike Ciscar, Florida Department of Transportation project engineer.

The state, since the 1960s, has proposed widening the road to make room for a concrete medium to stop head-on car crashes — there were five people killed in four such collisions last year — and to add lanes to better evacuate residents in the event of hurricanes, according to Mr. Ciscar.

But law dictates that development in Monroe County cannot exceed its ability to be evacuated within a 24-hour period in the event of a hurricane, so county officials feared for years that the widening of the road would lead to rampant over-development and have opposed it.

"That’s 58 feet wide. That’s a four-lane proposal in a three-lane disguise," says Monroe Commissioner Murray Nelson of the approved proposal. "They call it the Trojan horse down here."

All six miles of the stretch in Monroe County is in Mr. Nelson’s district.

The state transportation department offered to shave the width of the proposal down to 54 feet and thereby appeased Monroe County officials and a key environmental group, the Florida Keys Citizens Coalition.

The coalition, along with several other environmental groups launched legal administrative challenges to state road-widening proposals in 1995 and transportation department officials say they fear future efforts could once again derail the project.

Attorney Richard Grosso, who now represents the coalition and formerly served the 1000 Friends of Florida — another environmental group opposed to the road-widening — said he is cautious but optimistic about the future.

"It’s too early to tell right now. It was a constructive meeting. The FDOT really seems to understand the resolve of the people," he said.

Monroe County Mayor George Neugent said he anticipates that the two-lane compromise with a paved northbound shoulder only to be used during evacuations will be approved by the county.