Tuesday morning was pretty much the perfect storm proving that the Keys and Key West must believe in rainbows and unicorns if we think we can handle much additional development.
About 4 a.m. Dec. 5, a trailer truck struck barriers near Mile Marker 21 on Cudjoe Key, overturning the truck sideways across the Overseas Highway. It burst into flames, killing the driver and shutting down the road for hours in both directions. Farther up the Keys at the Snake Creek Bridge, road construction moved traffic into alternating patterns slowing travel all day.
The resulting truck fire tripped a Keys Energy tie line leaving 27,400 customers below Big Pine Key without electricity for 49 minutes.
Woe be to anyone with medical needs and without a generator or trying to get to work, school, a doctor’s appointment or the Miami airport.
Tuesday was not a good day. That’s the reality of life in the Keys. Our infrastructure is so fragile, our ways to the mainland so limited that one catastrophic accident ripples through the island chain and tears at the fabric of our lives. And the Monroe County sheriff says the crash was predictable and preventable.
That’s before we get to the height of tourist season when thousands more folks arrive with their smartphones and various streaming devices. Wondering why your cell signal is often just a couple bars, maybe none on occasion? How about those days when you can’t run a credit card, stream a movie or, in my case, get any digital work done because of those “spinning wheels”?
There’s science behind the why, but it boils down to this: The cell data and internet providers don’t have the bandwidth to handle the demand. Our communications links in the Keys have long been sketchy. How much worse will they be come January and February?
The Keys and Key West cannot successfully — and safely — manage what’s already here. Entertaining the idea that adding more people, traffic, houses and tourist-destination facilities won’t exacerbate this dreadful congestion of, well, just too much, is a pipe dream.
Perfect storm | The Keys and Key West can prevent it
Next week the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners is expected to make its recommendations on which of five hurricane evacuation options it will pursue as the board attempts to balance Rate of Growth Ordinances and Building Permit Allocations, which allow residential and commercial development, against how quickly we can evacuate everyone in the Keys before a Category 3 or higher hurricane.
One of those options presented by the state could add 7,954 new opportunities for development. No one benefits from that.
Three options add 3,500 permits in varying configurations. Still too many. The only sane option is Option 4, the one that adds 10 permits annually over the next 10 years.
The county commissioners have asked the incorporated municipalities, like Key West, to work with the county on a shared decision, one in which they will speak with one voice as the final decisions head to the state and then to the governor and his administrative council.
Look, I totally get that horrific accidents happen even when there’s no traffic snarl, that road construction is never-ending everywhere, that we nod our heads knowingly — maybe even with a smile — when a turkey buzzard or iguana incinerates itself on a tie line and we lose electricity. I get that patience is a required skill when one lives on island time.
But, folks, we glimpsed Tuesday morning what might happen if daily irritations escalate into community tragedy. Imagine if that truck fire and fatality were to happen as the Lower Keys were evacuating before a deadly hurricane. Picture thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles stranded in the open, hoping emergency crews working in decaying weather conditions could clear enough road to let them through. Meanwhile, there’d be no electricity to power the gas pumps, even if there were gasoline to be had, or support the wifi grid.
We can’t prevent accidents that cause worst-case scenarios, but we can certainly need to make growth and development decisions without believing in rainbows and unicorns. I’m hoping the county and the municipalities next week choose wisely.
Photos courtesy Monroe County Fire Rescue