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Two years after making a public ferry system connecting Miami to Key West a local priority, county officials in the Florida Keys say it might not be possible.

However, in a major update of several transportation projects for the Florida Keys this week, officials outlined that an inter-island boat system, an overhauled bus network and a new on-demand car service are in the works, alongside the reconstruction of the iconic Seven Mile Bridge.

The Florida Keys Transportation Coordination Committee met on Wednesday to discuss updates to 12 projects the committee set before the Florida Department of Transportation to prioritize a couple of years ago.

One of those — a potential ferry boat making regular trips between Key West and Miami — is likely not going to happen. Rough offshore waters in the Atlantic Ocean are the biggest barrier to creating that ferry route, according to Clark.

As the population of permanent residents across the Keys rises and the island chain continues to support a huge tourist industry, transportation and traffic issues have taken center stage in local politics, alongside housing affordability.

“We realized we’ve almost maxed out who can live and now we’ve got this giant influx of folks coming in,” Clark said.

The county’s population rose by nearly 10,000 people from 2010 to 2020, according to U.S. Census data, and the Monroe County Tax Collector’s Office has reported over $80 million in tourist development tax revenue for each of the last two fiscal years.

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Instead of a Key West-Miami ferry, Clark said, the county is in the very early stages of coordinating with FDOT to apply for a federal grant that would fund a local, inter-island ferry system. The new service would aim to help alleviate traffic issues on the Overseas Highway by allowing people to island hop by boat instead of clogging up the road.

Other upcoming transportation projects

Clark also discussed progress toward bolstering Monroe County’s local commuter system. He announced that county commissioners are set to approve a vendor for on-demand electric car vehicles operating across Stock Island and Key West on May 15.

The ride servicer Freebee, which is already widely used across Islamorada, was the highest-rated bidder, according to Clark.

Pending approval from commissioners, the car service would likely begin sometime in June, Clark said. Up to 30 Ford Transit electric vans would be on-demand to pick up pedestrians from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. 5 of the 30 vehicles would be wheelchair accessible.

“Our initial focus is workforce,” Clark said. “And the next step beyond the workforce is our local service. And then our next step beyond that is, ‘How do we reach out beyond that?’ The first is a robust, continuous commuter system that doesn’t exist today.”

The county is also looking to create a local, county-wide bus system that has buses running in 30-minute intervals. Currently, Key West Transit and Miami-Dade County operate the only buses traveling across the island chain.

“Right now on a good day, we have seven to nine buses on the entire system with Key West Transit and what Miami Dade’s providing for us,” Clark said. “We need 22.”

FDOT also has several upcoming projects including what will likely be the complete reconstruction of two major bridges in the Keys: Long Key Bridge and the iconic Seven Mile Bridge.

“Over the next and the current five-year work plan is the Long Key Bridge, the Seven Mile Bridge — and not rehabs, [those will be] brand new bridges,” Clark said.

A public meeting to discuss the Seven Mile Bridge project is slated for May 16.

Julia Cooper

Julia Cooper is an intern at WLRN. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.

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Julia Cooper is an intern at WLRN. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.