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After a weekend traffic disaster where thousands of motorists were stranded for several hours, the Florida Department of Transportation on Monday opened up a northbound lane to I-95 from the Rickenbacker Causeway after state Rep. Vicki Lopez intervened with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Office.

The southbound lane to U.S. 1 was scheduled to reopen Tuesday once work crews reinstalled the guardrails. By early afternoon, traffic was moving with no backups. Lopez went into action after she got a call from Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco on Sunday.

The long-planned renovation of the flyovers off the Rickenbacker coincided with heavy beach traffic fueled by outstanding spring weather and a closed lane near the Hobe Island North park, which is also undergoing renovation.

The entrance to the flyover from the Rickenbacker Causeway to Interstate 95 was reopened Monday after closures caused a traffic jam where thousands of motorists were stranded for up to several hours. (KBI Photo/John Pacenti)

Even for an island used to epic traffic jams, residents on social media said Sunday would live in infamy. The closure left motorists trapped as some abandoned their cars and walked for miles, some with luggage in tow. Others witnessed motorists relieving themselves in the nearby woods.

Lopez said she talked to Peter Cuderman, DeSantis’ director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs, early Monday morning. She also sent a text message overnight to Stacy Miller, the Florida Department of Transportations’ secretary for District 6.

Lopez, whose district includes Key Biscayne, said she told Cuderman that the boat show planned for at Miami Marine Stadium for May 17-19 will need to be canceled and drastic measures taken if the flyover lanes remain closed.

“If you’re going to continue down this path, the only people that should be allowed to and from Key Biscayne should be the residents and those who can prove they work there,” Lopez said she told Cuderman. “Everyone else will not be allowed on the Key. And the next thing I knew,they were opening the ramps.”

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Miller contacted the Village on Monday by 10 a.m. on remedial efforts to relieve the traffic congestion after rerouting cars through Brickell and Coconut Grove surface streets failed and promised a new project plan by Tuesday, Village Manager Steve Williamson said.

“We really appreciate the fact that she called us and they are on it. She knows she has to address the problem now,” he said.

The move by FDOT came after Rasco criticized the agency in a social media post on Sunday, saying it needed to open up the flyovers until “they prove to us they have a viable and effective traffic plan.”

Diagram showing traffic closures due to flyover repairs. (KBI via FDOT)

The County controls much of the Rickenbacker Causeway but Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said only the County stood ready to assist FDOT to help traffic flow, such as with additional police officers.

“Although this project is led by FDOT, we are committed to working with all partner agencies to provide any support needed to lessen the inconvenience to residents,” Levine Cava posted on social

Key Biscayne Police Chief Frank Sousa appealed for patience saying the flyovers were in need of serious repairs. “If you can work remotely, you should,” he said. 

Cars in a 7-mile traffic jam on the William Powell Bridge exiting Key Biscayne, Sunday April 14 2024 The jam came on the first day of two-month closure of the flyover ramp from Key Biscayne to I-95 and U.S. 1. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Traffic jams over the last month have taxed Sousa’s department. His officers worked into the early morning hours trying to direct traffic on Key Biscayne intersections.

Fire Chief Eric Lang said there were three emergency transports off the island to nearby hospitals.

Rumya Sundaram, director of environmental science and operations for the Key Biscayne Community Foundation, was on the island Sunday to judge a science fair. She tried to leave the Key around 5:30 p.m. and didn’t get to her Coral Gables home until 1 a.m. 

The traffic jam, she said, spread to Fernwood and Glenridge roads. Golf carts ruled the night as they were able to go on sidewalks and get around traffic. “We just turned our cars off and parked in the street waiting,” Sundram said.

After 1 1/2 hours stalled on Glenridge, Sundaram worried that she might fall asleep. She pulled into the driveway of Ann Roth, the director of the Key Biscayne Presbyterian School and stayed at her home until midnight.

Williamson on Monday talked about how the Village had pushed back on FDOT’s plan to reroute traffic through Brickell. 

“They developed detours that did not appear effective,” he said. “The manager and police chief went over detour plans with them last week and expressed grave concerns.”

Williamson said a new plan needs better signal timing on the detours, additional off-duty police and just a partial shutdown of the flyover.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.


Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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