Key West today enters the third day of an estimated 1,000 or more days of mass detours, as the aorta of the island's road system undergoes extensive rebuilding by the Florida Department of Transportation. And motorists are for the first time getting a glimpse of inconvenience to come.
"I would slow down and be a little more patient," said city spokeswoman Alyson Crean. "Not only do you have commuter traffic, but there are buses on alternate routes, bicyclists -- and maybe more bicyclists. It has the potential to be a little more dangerous out there, so allow for extra time and understanding."
The pressure point during this phase of the North Roosevelt Boulevard project is the intersection of that highway with Palm Avenue. At mid-afternoon Tuesday, between 18 and 25 cars, motorbikes, trucks and sport utility vehicles idled on the Palm Avenue Bridge, facing east, waiting to continue forward when the light changed -- even if that was not what drivers had planned.
Horns remained silent. The patience officials were hoping for throughout the project was apparent Tuesday.
"We kind of detoured around as best we could," said massage therapist Tricia Roman, who recently moved to Key West. The trip to Home Depot on North Roosevelt from the City Marina at Garrison Bight, where she and information technology consultant Delayne Hiott share a houseboat, is normally a hop, skip and jump consisting of three left turns.
Tuesday it turned into an adventure. Roman doesn't know the island. Hiott didn't know the detours. But they managed it all with good humor.
FDOT spokesman Dean Walters said some confusion and backups will understandably occur.
The biggest problems, he said, come from drivers trying not to use the detours, and attempting shortcuts through neighborhoods with which they are not necessarily familiar, which causes unnecessary congestion on streets that won't lead to chosen destinations.
"They've been using side streets and residential areas, clogging the traffic, and then they don't know where they are," Walters said. "If people follow the detour routes and are patient, it will work out."
The construction work has outbound North Roosevelt closed off from Palm up to Kennedy Drive, with two lanes for most blocks of inbound traffic.
Turns are allowed into businesses from Kennedy. But that means traffic coming from downtown, whether on Palm or Truman avenues, cannot turn onto outbound Roosevelt. That's why the logjam occurs.
Emergency vehicles have been able to travel the Roosevelt corridor, Walters said. Ambulances and firetrucks, he said, have special GPS systems that interact with lights, allowing them to turn in their favor when they approach.
Walters said plans are in place in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm. Work crews would leave their posts, taking work equipment with them, Walters said, at the same time tourists were evacuated, leaving room for all highways out of the island to be traversed as usual.
He noted that motorists can still get off the island by returning to Roosevelt via Kennedy Drive, and then heading north.
"That's still a clear shot all the way out of town," he said.