FDOT gives in to Keys demands, lowers speed limit in Islamorada

A drone still photograph shows the stretch of U.S. 1 in Islamorada that FDOT agreed to lower the speed limit from 50 mph to 45 mph Thursday, July 11, 2019, at the request of Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay.
A drone still photograph shows the stretch of U.S. 1 in Islamorada that FDOT agreed to lower the speed limit from 50 mph to 45 mph Thursday, July 11, 2019, at the request of Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay.

Florida Keys officials, especially the county’s sheriff, won a significant victory Thursday when the Florida Department of Transportation agreed to reduce the speed limit on a stretch of U.S. 1 that was the scene of a deadly crash that killed four tourists from Spain in March 2018.

The speed limit from mile marker 77 to 80 along the highway in Islamorada will be lowered from 50 mph to 45 mph effective July 19. Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay has been asking FDOT for the reduction for more than a year.

FDOT compromised to 50 mph from 55 mph a month after the fatal crash, but Ramsay and officials with the village of Islamorada ramped up the pressure on the agency following several recent serious crashes and problems with littering and partying along the state-owned beaches that line that corridor. Those beaches are referred to as the Indian Key, Tea Table and Lignumvitae fills.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m really excited,” Ramsay said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been arguing with FDOT about this for a long time. I’ve been very critical of them in the past, but I have to give them credit.”

Ramsay often calls that stretch of U.S. 1 “the most dangerous three-mile area in the entire county.”

It’s one of the first places in the Keys where the vista opens up, which Ramsay said causes people to pay more attention to the water on both sides of the highway than the cars in front of them.

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María López-Bermejo Rosselló, Margarita Cortés-Pardo, Ana Gaitán Díaz and Teresa Sánchez Quetglas are seen together on a recent cruise trip. The four friends were visiting South Florida from Spain when they were killed in a car crash in the Florida Keys on March 5, 2018. Diaro De Mallorca

FDOT officials told locals this summer they would conduct a traffic study that could take as long as 90 days to complete before making a decision on reducing the speed limit. Instead, the agency completed the study in one day two weeks ago.

“If it wasn’t for his determination and relentless communications with FDOT, we would not have made this giant step forward,” Islamorada Councilman Mike Forster said Thursday, referring to Ramsay.

In a statement, FDOT District 6 Secretary James Wolfe said the agency’s study concluded lowering the speed limit to 45 mph would save lives.

“We committed to conducting a traffic study through the area and the results indicate that it would be prudent to reduce the current speed limit to 45 mph,” he said.

FDOT’s decision is its latest concession to Islamorada officials. Following a raucous Memorial Day weekend at the fills where day trippers and weekenders from the mainland left the area littered with garbage and feces, Islamorada officials demanded the state do more to police the land it owns, but the village maintains and cleans up.

Trash is strewn about the mangroves at Indian Key Fill in Islamorada following a three-day Memorial Day weekend. Local residents and officials want the state to find ways to curb partying in the area. Wall of Shame - Florida Keys Visitors Facebook page

The solution, made days before the July 4 weekend, was to allow Islamorada to temporarily lease the fills. The village placed barriers and roped off areas to limit roadside parking, increased the numbers of garbage cans and dumpsters, placed portable toilets throughout the beaches and assigned staff to monitor and help manage parking.

The result was a clean and quiet holiday weekend at the fills, something that hasn’t happened in years.

Aerial of the Fill July 4, 2019.jpg
A photo taken by an aerial drone shows Indian Key Fill on July 4, 2019. On busy weekends, the area is usually flooded with parked cars and people. But, the Village of Islamorada implemented temporary measures this year, which locals hope will become permanent, to limit partying, camping and littering there. Photo by David Gross

“Just shows you what collaboration and teamwork with local and state agencies can accomplish, for the greater good of our constituents when we all work together,” Forster said.

Some Islamorada officials and council members want to lease the fills from the state so the village can make the measures permanent.

Some Islamorada politicians said FDOT still has to do more to improve safety and quality-of-life issues, including making the corridor a no-passing zone, something Ramsay wants as well, but FDOT has not done.

Councilman Ken Davis said it was FDOT inaction that caused the problems to begin with.

“We have successfully spoken out as a community, and our voices have been heard. Once we have them invoke the ‘no-passing’ zone, the traffic issues in the area of the Indian Key fills should be complete,” Davis said Thursday. “Until then, any accidents related to passing weigh on the shoulders of FDOT.”