Driving to the Keys for the Fourth? Here are 7 ways to avoid a traffic nightmare

Traffic rolls on the Seven Mile Bridge near Marathon, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.  (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)
Traffic rolls on the Seven Mile Bridge near Marathon, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO) Florida Keys News Bureau

Cruising down U.S. 1 from the mainland to the Florida Keys is one of the most breathtaking views around.

But getting there isn’t always easy.

Police expect traffic to be extra busy from June 29 through July 8.

Read More: Going to Key West for Fourth of July? Here’s what to do

Read More: Guide to Fourth of July fireworks in Miami-Dade and Broward

U.S. 1, or the Overseas Highway, is a one-way in and a one-way out situation. A simple fender-bender can back up traffic for miles and a serious crash could close down an entire stretch for hours.

Here are a few tips from the locals to help you out if you’re headed far south for the Fourth of July holiday stretch.

1. It will take longer than you think

Tack on an extra hour of driving for a busy holiday weekend. Dreaming of zooming down the Keys without delay? Keep dreaming. It’s the only road in town, remember, and the maximum speed limit is 55 only in certain spots. Leave early, a day early and at night if possible, and try to stay an extra day after the big day. Bring patience. Throughout Big Pine Key, about a half-hour outside Key West, the speed limit is 45 mph during the day and 35 mph at night because it’s a national refuge for the endangered Key deer. Speeding in the deer zone will cost you at least $206. Be patient and try to enjoy the ride.

2. Pack a book

Longtime Keys residents know the odds of being stopped on the highway for a few hours are always likely. So pack a book, or an audiobook, or your tablet with a charger in case you have to put your car in park for a sizable chunk of time.

3. Make a couple of stops along the way

The Keys is more than drinking on Duval Street in Key West. Stop at Robbie’s in Islamorada to feed the tarpon. Plan a visit to Sombrero Beach in Marathon or Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key. Take a side road on Big Pine to look at the small Key deer. Take in the sights or Google stores, parks and restaurants along the way. The whole island chain has its own funky shopping opportunities and some excellent food. You can use your GPS to find the No Name Pub on No Name Key and enjoy a singular Keysey lunch at a spot that dates back to 1931. Or find a place to kayak and soak up some sun for a couple of hours. Baby’s Coffee, near mile marker 15, is a must if you need a caffeine boost in either direction.

4. Don’t speed or pass illegally

It’s not worth it. So many drivers risk lives to pass illegally only to end up at the next stop light next to the cars they passed. Plus, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office will be out in full force along the Overseas Highway during the holiday weekend. Don’t pass where it’s outlawed or use center turn lanes for passing. Go the speed limit. Slowpokes cause traffic headaches as well.

5. There’s an app for it

Download the Keys sheriff’s office smart phone app. It will keep you up to date about any traffic problems, crashes or lane closures. It’s free.

6. Watch out for parade traffic

In the Upper Keys, Key Largo has a parade from 10 a.m. to noon July 4 . Northbound traffic will be closed at mile marker 97 from 9:30 to 9:45 a.m. All traffic will be diverted into southbound lanes starting at 9:45 a.m. The highway will return to normal traffic patterns by 1 p.m. Plan extra time and expect slowdowns if this is during your road trip.

7. Enjoy the ride

You’re making a drive that half the population would envy. Slow going or jammed up for a time, U.S. 1 is a fabled destination in itself. If you’re not driving, you have a sensational view of the ocean’s many blues.