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Driving to Key West – The Downside

Driving to Key West on the US-1 Overseas Highway down the Florida Keys is a truly classic road trip that should be experienced at least once. However, arranging and making the drive is not without its difficulties. There are many who want to drive the Keys one time, but then would not do it again. It is not an adventure that is suitable to everyone’s schedule or personal situation, and there are some disadvantages to traveling to Key West by car.

For one thing, visitors flying into Miami International Airport and driving to Key West will need to pick up a rental car and then get out of Miami. Both of these things take some doing. The rental car lots are off-site from the airport and located on a maze of small side streets. It is necessary to catch a shuttle from the main terminal to get over there. After picking up the car, a driver needs to navigate the freeway from the airport to US 836 West and then onto the Florida Turnpike heading south to Florida City. The Florida Turnpike is America’s 3rd most heavily traveled toll road and is considered one of the busiest highways in the country. Turnpike cost to Florida City is $3.00. Depending on the time of your arrival into Miami, you may have to contend with very heavy traffic on these roads, and the area around the airport is notorious for construction projects.


Aerial view of Miami International Airport and surrounding area.

From an economic standpoint, depending on your own financial situation and budget, driving down the Keys may not necessarily be inexpensive. First off, as everyone knows, fuel prices have skyrocketed in recent years. At the time of this writing, gas prices in Miami are averaging $3.65 per gallon. While this is certainly high enough, be aware that prices are even higher in the Keys due to transportation costs. By the time you get to Key West, expect to be paying about $3.80 per gallon at the lowest. And remember, whether driving to Key West one-way or going round-trip back to Miami, you will need to drop off the rental car with a full tank.

Another item that can add significantly to costs for the incautious driver is traffic citations. Both the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and the Florida Highway Patrol maintain a very heavy presence on US-1 through the Keys. They enforce all posted speed limits exactly and mercilessly because the fines generated are an important source of income in a time of budgetary contraction. As US-1 passes through the small towns of the Keys, and other areas with intersecting roads and streets, speed limits vary from 55 to 45 miles per hour and there are many good locations for speed traps. Those who fail to adhere strictly to all speed limits and other traffic regulations on their way down the Keys may find that driving to Key West ends up costing several hundred dollars more than planned.


US-1 Bridge at Craig Key.

Also, keep in mind the fact that US-1 along the Keys is not a road that is easy to make steady good time on. At a projected time cost of 4 hours to cover 170 miles in ideal circumstances, it is already clear that US-1 is a slow road. In most places, the Florida Keys highway is a rather narrow two lanes, and it runs over a series of islands connected by bridges, so by the time a driver reaches Key West, 42 bridges will have been crossed. These bridges and the general narrowness of the road can cause traffic to choke up and move slowly.

To some extent, a driver will experience the Keys as a single city, 110 miles long, and populated by about 85,000 people. US-1 is the main street of that city, and you can expect cars to be entering the road, traveling a short distance then exiting at gas stations, grocery stores, or into secondary streets and roads serving local neighborhoods. Because of this, many stretches of the Keys Highway are unfortunately somewhat conducive to accidents, and US-1 will occasionally be blocked and closed by an accident. In such a case, be prepared to wait along with many other trapped drivers because there are no alternative routes.


Plantation Key

Finally, upon reaching Key West, a car becomes something of a liability. Traffic is heavy and congested on the streets of the city, and parking is limited and expensive in many areas. In addition, some people consider biking, walking, and using local forms of transport around the island to be part of the charm of their vacation. In such cases, a round-trip rental car may be left in the parking lot of an accommodation (and some do not provide parking) and daily rental costs wasted, or dropped-off as a one-way rental, in which case fees may apply. For those considering a round-trip drive to Key West and back to Miami, there are many anecdotal reports attesting to the depressing character of the drive back north at vacation’s end. If nothing else, anticipation of the drive can put a damper on celebration of your final night in Key West.

Lloyd's Tropical Bike Tour of Key west 02

Bike Key West!

A drive down the Keys certainly can be a wonderful experience, but like anything else, driving to Key West does have its downsides. It is important to consider your own circumstances and needs, and balance the pros and cons of driving to Key West in comparison to the benefits of other available means of transportation down to the island. For example, did you know that Cool Key West is your gateway to easy round-trip transportation from Miami to Key West via luxury motor coach?  A coach tour may be the safest and most convenient way to see the Keys because, without the responsibilities of driving, you can gaze at the scenery to your heart’s content. When you arrive for a day or a stay in Key West, you will be refreshed and ready to enjoy the island to the fullest.

Miami to Key West 1-Day Bus Tour 05

Roll like a rock star.

Making the correct choice of transport for your trip down the Keys can add a lot to the relaxation and enjoyment of your visit to Key West, so do like the rock stars do and roll into Key West via luxury coach.


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