An accord has been reached between the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and organizers of an Iron Man triathlon to be held in the Lower Keys in January.
The triathlon was in jeopardy of happening because of concerns about traffic congestion from 112 mile biking portion of the event. Sugarloaf Key residents voiced opposition to the bike portion going through their neighborhood. Also, sheriff's officials were concerned about traffic congestion on U.S. Highway 1, as plans called for the bikers to cross U.S. 1 in several spots.
Event organizers, Questor Multisport, and the sheriff's office have reached an agreement on the bike portion of the event. Bikers will ride along U.S. Highway 1 from Key West to Middle Torch Key, where the riders will do several laps around the Key. Riders will then return south. On the way back to Key West, participants will detour on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key before returning to U.S. 1, sheriff's Capt. Gene Thompson said.
"We want people to come to the Keys and hold events, but we have to think of the residents," Thompson said. "We will see how it goes this year and adjust it next year if we have to."
The Sheriff's Office also initially recommended the race be held in September when there are less tourists and traffic in the Keys. But the Sheriff Office has agreed to allow the staged Bone Island Triathlon to be held Jan. 12.
The 17-hour event will start with a 2.4-mile swim from Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park to Higgs Beach, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride along U.S. 1. The event concludes with a 26.2-mile run through Key West, said event organizer Richard Langdon, who grew up in the Florida Keys but now lives in South Carolina.
Langdon said the event would be a huge economic boost to the local economy. Athletes from around the world will participate, he said, including some of the top triathletes in the country. Langdon estimated the event will generate $3.5 million to $4 million for Keys businesses, from equipment rentals, booked hotel rooms, restaurant dinners and other expenditures.
"It could have a pretty big economic impact," Langdon said. "We have people from all over the world registered to compete."
The event has been heavily scrutinized by the Monroe County Commission and the Sheriff's Office because it is scheduled for the week after an annual Keyswide run that backed up traffic on U.S. 1 for hours earlier this year.
The Ragnar Relay is a 199-mile run from Miami to Key West, also in January. Following the race, county commissioners were flooded with complaints about traffic.
In that event, it was the relay teams' support vans -- often slowing down and driving alongside runners on the two-lane highway -- that backed up traffic for miles.
Next year, Ragnar runners will be disqualified if their support teams slow or back up traffic, Thompson said.