KEY LARGO -- Some businesses along the Overseas Highway at mile marker 99.3 want the state's road agency to consider installing additional wrong-way signs.
Mark Willis, owner of Keys Art and Furniture, said he has witnessed too many collisions and close calls outside his shop in the median of U.S. 1 as motorists leaving bayside businesses mistakenly turn north onto southbound U.S. 1. He is fearful the Florida Department of Transportation officials will wait until someone is killed to act.
Willis took it upon himself to install a one-way sign on his property, but he said that came down quickly due to FDOT.
"They told me they'd tear down my sign and fine me," he said.
Brian Rick, a spokesman for FDOT, says he has not received any complaints from business owners in that area regarding the wrong-way travelers. Rick, though, could not say whether complaints were made to FDOT's local office and did not respond to a Free Press request to investigate the matter. Rick could not confirm or deny Willis' account.
The same problem Willis has witnessed is echoed by employees at the nearby Pelican Hotel.
"It's mostly Europeans or foreigners not familiar with our roads," said Ozzy Ley, who works as a front desk manager for the hotel.
Ley said he sees between three and four cars turning the wrong way onto the highway every week.
"I personally remind every guest the road is one-way," he said.
The problem appears to arise from the fact that U.S. 1 in that area has two southbound lanes that are separated from two northbound lanes by a large median occupied by businesses. In many spots, motorists on the southbound side cannot see the northbound lanes. Those exiting bayside properties can mistakenly believe they are turning onto a single highway with two-way traffic, rather than onto two lanes of southbound traffic.
Unlike Willis, who is pushing for more signage, Ley says an even more proactive approach needs to be taken.
"I see this happening at night, and I don't know that a sign could change that," he said. "We need something attractive that drivers can see in the dark."
Just last week, Monroe County Sheriff's deputies responded to a three-car collision outside Willis' business, according to photographs taken by the business owner, who also witnessed the accident.
Willis also told the Free Press that Key Largo accountant Bill Andersen, who has a business in the median, was nearly hit by a wrong-way driver while walking across the highway. He said Andersen has also filed complaints with FDOT. Andersen did not return phone calls seeking comment.
"Someone is going to have die for something to happen," Willis said.