A new $330 million road connecting the South Florida mainland with the Florida Keys is finished, with built-in safety and environmental features to make drivers, local wildlife and conservationists happy. The new “18-Mile Stretch,” a segment of U.S. Highway 1 between Florida City and Key Largo, took nearly seven years to construct.
A concrete median barrier, painted Belize blue as recommended by marine life artist Wyland, stretches almost the entire length of the road and should reduce substantially the number of serious accidents, especially in fog.
The old road had as many as 14 critical accidents a year, according to local highway officials.
Environmental features include nearly twenty culverts and underpasses for animals such as crocodiles and Florida panthers, to allow them to cross safely under the road. Engineers also eliminated a land causeway that once bisected Lake Surprise.
The new roadway design has restored natural water flow in to Florida Bay. The new road includes shoulders and berms to prevent road pollutants from washing into Florida Bay.
The project’s iconic element is the 1.25-mile-long, 65-foot-high Jewfish Creek Bridge, creating a spectacular panoramic vistahas created a more impressive visual driving approach to the Florida Keys.
National Geographic calls the 113-mile drive from the Florida mainland to Key West one of the 500 most spectacular scenic drives in the world. There are state parks, fishing villages, snorkeling and scuba diving sites en route, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where you can hang out with dolphins, manatees, sea horses and other sea cre
atures without getting your feet wet. My favorite stop in Key West is Ernest Hemingway’s house and museum, and there’s an underwater hotel in Key Largo — it was an underwater research ship in its previous life. Another must stop in Key West is the marker at the southernmost spot in the United States. You just have to wait your turn with all the other tourists taking their photo with the marker.
Start planning your visit — a real one or a virtual one — to the Florida Keys and Key West on the region’s official website.