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Want to see traffic jams in tiny Key West? Wait until 2020, local leaders say

Key West’s welcome sign marks the sole way in and off the island on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
Key West’s welcome sign marks the sole way in and off the island on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.

Key West has one road leading on and off the island, all in a Y-pattern that locals call the Triangle. It leads from U.S. 1 over the Cow Key Bridge and onto North or South Roosevelt Boulevards.

Come February 2020, that sole entrance to the Keys’ marquee tourist attraction will be disrupted for at least 16 months so the state can repair the Cow Key Bridge, which connects Key West proper to Stock Island.

Those four lanes — two leading in and two leading out — will be halved to two lanes, with a single lane in each direction while crews work on the dual bridges.

City government and business leaders met Thursday evening for the first time with Florida Department of Transportation officials and consultants to learn about the $3.2 million project.

“That’s the plan, however, that could change,” said FDOT spokesman Rodolfo Roman, of the one-lane-for-each-way traffic pattern. “That’s why we came out to the community to get input.”

Details were few as consultants said the project is still in the planning stages, but one fact was clear: The construction will turn traffic into a bottleneck as workers, visitors and school buses share the road.

The project reminded locals of the reconstruction of North Roosevelt Boulevard — Key West’s main artery — a few years ago.

But the 2020 bridge repair will be “worse, much worse,” said Virginia Panico, executive vice president of the Key West Chamber of Commerce.

At least when the Roosevelt project disrupted traffic for two years, city drivers had the alternative and parallel Flagler Avenue to use, she said.

Panico said the chamber’s chief concern is that ambulances and fire engines can get through. An FDOT consultant Thursday said there will be room on the shoulder for motorists to pull over to let emergency vehicles by.

“I don’t care what time of day it is, there’s going to be backup,” Panico said of the Triangle. “How many businesses have warehouses on Stock Island and they are working in Key West? Time is money to a business.”

Repairs to the bridges include replacing sections of it, including deck and beams.