Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Road to Florida Keys Dedicated - The 18 Mile Stretch Is Finally Complete!!!

Part of the Original 18-Mile Strech.
Then, One of America's Deadliest Roads

From late 1950's to the mid 70's, my Grandfather delivered Keg Beer for Budweiser to all the restaurants and bars from Key Largo to the 7-Mile Bridge, and drove a large beer delivery truck.  I can still remember his stories about how often his side mirrors would "kiss" other truck mirrors on the impossibly thin, 2-laned, dreaded, "18-Mile Stretch", that desolate, albeit, beautiful stretch of US1between Florida City, the last mainland outpost, and Key Largo as you traverse Jewfish Creek and Lake Surprise.

The New Jew Fish Creek Bridge
Probably one of the deadliest roads in America, the "18 Mile Stretch" as it is called, was a very scary ride at times, with most of the traffic accidents resulting from terrifyingly tragic, head on collisions.  You had to know how to drive the stretch, when to pass and when NOT to, a fact lost on many tourists, and other impatient motorists.  I remember driving it the very first day I got my license...a kind of right of passage. Many people I knew would not come down to the Keys strictly because of the 18-Mile Stretch!! And Card Sound Road, the other only Keys access route was too long and you had to go through some scary fish camps with tough old fishermen and hard core Bikers that hung out at Alabama Jacks, the local watering hole, where blood flowed as heavily as the whiskey did. (All that area is much much tamer now, but back in the day...)

Cement Median and Side Shoulder Make
For a Much Safer Drive!
Now, the beast has, for the most, part been tamed!! The Stretch now has a undergone a MAJOR renovation that lasted several years and resulted in a much, much safer drive, and has now officially been dedicated.  Gone is the thin single, two lane road, now replaced by a wide road with areas to pull over for emergencies and a bright aqua-colored cement median that runs the span of the stretch.  No more deadly head on collisions!!!  Gone as well, is the old draw bridge over Jew Fish Creek, replaced with a sky high, fixed bridge offering spectacular views of Blackwater and Barnes Sounds.

All Photos by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Now, some old time Conchs are not too fond of the new road, as they liked the fact that the old road scared some away and the new one makes it too easy to get here and therefore bringing more people that can spoil our slice of paradise.  I can understand that, but as for me, anything that makes for a safer and more fun experience here in the Keys gets my vote, though i must say that I am not too crazy about the new fences that run the length, but can understand that they are meant to keep our wildlife safer.

Below are some comments from  the Florida Keys and Key West Web Site:
"New Road to Florida Keys Dedicated
Officials marked the completion of a $330 million Florida Department of Transportation road project Wednesday that rebuilt an 18-mile section of U.S. 1 connecting the South Florida mainland with the Florida Keys. A dedication ceremony heralded benefits of a new and safer "18-mile Stretch.""

All in all, it was progress that was needed.  I wonder what my Grandfather would have thought??

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