Briefing and Analysis

Problems exist not from one thing, but a confluence of bad decisions.

If you live in the Florida Keys, traffic is a sore subject. Traffic is bad and getting worse as the Keys continues to develop. Based on Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Monroe County standards, the “Level of Service” (LOS) used to rate traffic on US1 has fallen below an acceptable level and is not in compliance with the Monroe County Comprehensive Plan or the Islamorada Comprehensive Plan.

According to FDOT, Islamorada averages as many as 31,500 vehicles per day on US1 on an annual basis. The numbers are likely larger in season and lighter in the hot summer and fall months. Based on data provided by the Tourist Development Council, estimations are:

  • Tourists account for 42% of all traffic in Islamorada.
  • Day trippers account for 17% of all traffic in Islamorada
  • Tourists who spend one or more nights account for 25% of all traffic in Islamorada
  • Workers in the tourism industry account for 28% of all traffic in Islamorada

We all have our own personal experiences with local traffic, knowing first-hand how bad it is and how it negatively impacts our quality of life. And then there is the question of storm evacuations. Who do we hold accountable when problematic evacuations cost lives?

The purpose of this report is to help the residents better understand the problem and provide suggestion/solutions to our traffic problem.

A sample of traffic data from one day, courtesy of the Monroe County Sheriff Office traffic app



The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) publishes Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) counts on its website at Florida Traffic Online. The AADT is the total volume of traffic on a highway segment for one year, divided by the number of days in the year. Since these numbers are an average, the AADT can be much higher in peak season and lower at slower times of the year.

Islamorada AADT count (number of vehicles that pass through this area) from April of 2019 to March of 2020 is noted below:

  • From the Tavernier Creek Bridge (MM 91.5) to ~MM 87 on Plantation Key: 31,500 daily vehicles
  • From ~MM 87 to ~MM80: 21,500 daily vehicles
  • From ~MM 80 to ~MM74: 14,600 daily vehicles
  • From ~MM 74 to the Channel 5 bridge: 12,700 vehicles daily
  • Islamorada as a whole averages 20,075 vehicles daily

Traffic is measured in Florida by a Level of Service (LOS). The LOS is measured by the speed traffic is moving in a particular area. Comparable to school letter grades, a higher grade denotes faster moving and acceptable Levels of Service and lower grades denotes slower moving and traffic. Some traffic studies also measure the time a motorist has to wait to turn on to US1, which can also be factored into the LOS. An LOS of D is considered unacceptable and both the Monroe County and Islamorada Comprehensive Plans do not allow further development with a failing LOS as explained below.

From the Monroe County Staff to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), 10/21/2020 meeting:

“The overall LOS for the entire length of U.S. 1 has fallen from LOS C to LOS D, and there is no reserve capacity for additional trips. According to the policies and regulations in the Monroe County Year 2030 Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, this would mean the County may not permit new development, other than single family homes, unless the proposed development’s traffic impact is mitigated.” Board of County Commissioners Agenda item

The same principles apply to Islamorada. However, the segments of US1 running through Islamorada failed the previous traffic study conducted by Monroe County, by receiving a “D” rating with no reserve capacity. Roget Bryan, the village attorney, stated in 2019 that the failing grade didn’t matter because Islamorada followed the LOS grade achieved on US1 for all of Monroe County. 

Now that all of US1 has failed in Monroe County, the Village Staff and council need to address this problem.

Further, Monroe County is considering changing the way the County measures the LOS. The BOCC decided to update the data gathering methods and redo the LOS Study.  County staff estimated  these tasks will be done by the end of 2021. If the County makes this methodology change, but does nothing to stop the amount of increased traffic, the problem will only continue to get worse.

To understand the problem, it is important to define the different segments of traffic:

  1. Tourists 
    a. Day Trippers                              
    b. Tourists staying overnight
  2. Local residents who work locally
  3. Local residents who commute out of the Keys to the mainland
  4. Employees who commute from  the mainland into the Keys
  5. Routine residential travel

The Tourist Segment of Traffic

The 2019 Monroe County Tourist Development Council Visitor Profile Survey has provided the following statistics:

  • 5.1 million tourists visited the Keys
  • Subtract Key Largo tourists (973,500) and 4,144,600 tourists visited Islamorada, Marathon, the Lower Keys and Key West combined
  • 29% of all Key West visitors drove to Key West (through Islamorada) in a rented vehicle
  • 36% drove their personal car
  • 8% flew to Miami and rented a car

The 2019 Monroe County Tourist Development Council Visitor Profile Survey

These numbers suggest that 3.1 million tourists drove to or through Islamorada. The TDC/Rockport study tells us that of 5.1 million tourists who visited the Keys, 2.99 million tourists were overnight visitors, or 59%. Apply that percentage to traffic travelling through Islamorada: 

  • Annual Overnight Tourists (59%): 1.83 million  

  • Annual Day Trippers (41%): 1.27 million  

Assuming the average party size was two people and you calculate an arrival trip and departure trip for each party, the Average Annual Daily Traffic Count (AADT) for each tourist segment is: 

  • Annual Overnight Tourists: 5,014 AADT or 25% of all Islamorada traffic 

  • Annual Day Trippers: 3,479 AADT or 17% of all Islamorada traffic 

  • Tourist segment total: 42% of all Islamorada traffic 

The Workforce Segment of Traffic

The 2018 Monroe County Tourist Development Council/Rockport Study provided the following statistics, which are included in the supplemental documentation section of this analysis. 

  • 44% of all jobs in Monroe County are tourist-related 

  • Islamorada has 2,800 tourist jobs 

  • Construction jobs are 3,941 Keyswide 

  • Islamorada comprises 11% of Monroe County 

Assuming the average tourist Industry worker commuting to or in Islamorada was one person per vehicle and you calculate a daily trip to and from work, the Average Annual Daily Traffic Count (AADT) for tourist industry employee is 5,600 or 28% of all Islamorada traffic. 

The Tourist Development Council/Rockport study

New Construction and Development

The graphic below illustrates how new development adds to our traffic problem in several ways along with adding to other challenging issues.

The worsening of already bad traffic impacts all aspects of our lives in the Keys. The tourist experience becomes tainted when travelers are stuck in traffic jams. Attracting tourists could focus on quality, not quantity. Property values may be negatively impacted as the Keys becomes a less desirable place to live. Our natural environment is already stressed to unsustainable levels.

The construction industry may have ample opportunity to prosper with redevelopment opportunities. Construction could focus on blighted areas and dilapidated structures.

Mass Transit in the Keys – The Miami Dade Transit System (MDT)

MDT has a program targeted to Miami-Dade County workers that travel to the Keys for employment. MDT has a grant agreement with FDOT for funding to operate the Monroe-Dade Express bus service that runs from Homestead to Marathon; route #302. Monroe County currently does not have an agreement with Miami-Dade Transit nor does it contribute funds to the Monroe-Dade Express service.

Based on 2019 ridership counts, only 420 workers ride the Miami Dade Transport bus system in and out of the Keys on a daily basis. These numbers come from a route that originates in Florida City and terminates in Marathon.

MDT added an extra bus to the route a couple of years ago to offset high demand of morning ridership, where riders were lining up at 4AM to be able to get a seat on the bus for a 5AM departure. Even with the addition of an extra bus it was reported that many could not get on the bus and were not able to report to their places of employment that day. Complaints from workers also have been reported that the afternoon bus rides out of the Keys are often so full leaving Islamorada that buses cannot accept more riders in Tavernier and Key Largo. These workers are left behind after a likely long day of work and often have to wait hours for the next bus.

COVID seating spacing requirements cutting bus capacity in half likely is exacerbating the problem.

Possible traffic solutions

Here's what the council said:

We have an all new Village Council now. Here is what they said in September 2020 when asked if they were satisfied with the Traffic situation in town.