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Why Miami Traffic is So Bad (And How To Avoid It)

Traffic in Miami is Bad. But Avoidable.
December 03, 2012 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News  | 2 Comments

From the Miami Relocation Guide.

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Traffic in Miami is bad. I mean real bad, to the point that many people schedule their lives around not having to sit in it. While it may not offer the endless miles of gridlock of Los Angeles, or the unmoving narrow streets of New York, what we lack in volume we make up for in insanity. But traffic here, unlike in those cities, is avoidable.

There are distinct routes and traffic patterns to avoid at certain times, and if you can do that you should be okay. Below we will lay out freeways and directions to avoid. Use this when looking at places to live and work so that you are not caught in any of our cornucopia of traffic jams. (see: Highways map)

US-1 (South Dixie Highway)

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Dubbed “Useless 1” by the locals, it used to be the route from downtown Miami to the Keys. Now it is the bane of the existence of most people living in Dade County. This road travels Northeast and Southwest, and while it may be marked “North” and “South” do not be fooled; it is a diagonal. Under no circumstances should you ever get on any portion of this road going northbound between 6:30-9:30 AM.  Same applies going south between 3-7:30 PM.

While there are distinct times you can more or less guarantee yourself a long wait in US-1 traffic, the rest of the day can prove unpredictable. Especially during road construction. US-1 still gets sticky in the afternoons going both ways starting at about 2. So if you can find ways around it, use those.  And on weekends, US-1 is frequently congested with people out running errands, taking kids to little league games, and generally enjoying the lovely South Florida weather. In their cars.

I-95 and the HOT Lanes

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Do not come South between 7-9 AM or go north between 3-7:30. These are our rush hours and they pack 95 with people who are too afraid to live in Miami (aka Broward County residents) who still insist on working downtown. Let them sit in the traffic.

I-95 also has what are known as HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes that run from just north of Downtown Miami at the interchange to SR-112 up to the Golden Glades Interchange in North Dade. You can only access the northbound HOT lanes from I-95 north BEFORE 112/I-195, and can only exit at the Golden Glades. So if you have to exit anywhere between downtown and NW 183rd Street, DO NOT GET IN THE HOT LANES.

While speeding over the plastic dividers may seem tempting, it is extremely dangerous even by Miami driving standards.
Similarly, you can only access the HOT lanes southbound just north of the Golden Glades then again just after it. But if you need to exit southbound between NW 183rd street and I-395/836 West, DO NOT GET IN THE HOT LANES SOUTHBOUND. You can exit to go West on 112 – Airport Expressway to get to MIA. But its eastbound extension, I-195 to Miami Beach is not accessible from the HOT lanes. So if you are going to mid or north Miami Beach, the HOT lanes are not an option.

The toll varies by how much traffic is traveling in the lanes at any given time. So what might cost you 25 cents late at night could be five dollars during rush hour. And the HOT lanes only accept SunPass, so if you live here get one and if you’re visiting make sure to rent one from the car agency. Cops rarely patrol it, so you can go a lot faster even during times of light traffic. Just pray you never break down and remember: NEVER CROSS INTO OR OUT OF THE HOT LANES THROUGH THE PLASTIC DIVIDERS.

836 (Dolphin Expressway)

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The Dolphin is an interesting animal. At one time this freeway passed by the home of the Miami Dolphins at the venerable Miami Orange Bowl. And while the Dolhins have moved north to SunLife Stadium ,and the Orange Bowl is now the futuristic Marlins Ballpark, the name of State Route 836 still remains.

The Dolphin is the major East-West Expressway in Dade County. Do not even think about going East between 7-9:30, and even after that the mile or so in front of the airport can slow down considerably. Be advised there is a $1.25 toll going eastbound into Downtown and South Beach. And if you don’t have a Sunpass, the wait at the toll booth can be quite lengthy. You can exit at NW 27th Ave. to avoid it, but quite often taking that detour defeats the purpose of the early exit.

Also avoid going west during the above mentioned evening Rush. If you exit before NW 107th Ave., you will avoid the Westbound toll. But if you need to get to the Turnpike or points west of there, it will cost you $1.25.

Florida’s Turnpike

Do not be fooled. Just because the Turnpike costs money doesn’t mean it is not jam-packed. Quite the contrary. North of SW 40th Street up into the County Line the turnpike can get real nasty going north in the morning. Southbound at night is worse, as starting as far north as the NW 106th St. (not far from the county line) traffic can get backed up well into South Dade, as far as SW 184th St. That’s a long way considering a mile in Dade is 16 streets. 

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Also, be advised that in Dade County the Turnpike is cash free. Meaning if you do not have a SunPass, the toll plaza will photograph your license plate and send you a bill for a jacked-up toll rate. So, again, if you are a visitor make sure you get a SunPass when you rent your car. And if you are a resident,  make sure you buy when before you get on the road. They are available at Walgreen’s and Publix for $4.99, and that includes $5 worth of tolls once you activate the SunPass.

Don Shula, Snapper Creek and Airport Expressways

These are all shortcut expressways that don’t go very far but rarely have any traffic. You can use them to bypass some of the more congested Expressways for a short time, but do not use them unless they are a direct route to where you are going. Also, be advised these expressways are also cash-free, so again you will need SunPass.

Surface Streets

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Dade County runs on a fairly simple grid system provided you are not in Hialeah or Coral Gables (more on those later). The grid, much like everything else in this city, was planned with all the foresight of a 17-year-old’s retirement plan.

The center of the grid is located in the extreme southeastern corner of the city, at the intersection of Miami Ave and Flagler Street downtown. Every street north of Flagler is northeast or northwest, and similarly every street south is southeast or southwest. Miami Ave. is the East-West dividing line, which is odd since if you go five blocks west of Miami Ave. in downtown you are right in the middle of Biscayne Bay. So what this leaves us with is a whole county full of streets that are “West” of the “center.” They stretch well into the triple-digits. (see: city grid map)

I’m not sure why, but a good deal of people in Miami are convinced taking surface streets is faster than taking freeways. Like somehow gridlock combined with traffic lights is faster than the old “no-light” system. Do not listen to these people.

As bad as traffic on the Expressways is, unless there is a major lane closing, you are ALWAYS better off taking the freeway for any longer-distance drive. That being said, should some local friend of yours insist otherwise and you decide to take the streets, by no means ever get on a major street going West during morning rush or East at night.  Similarly, do not try going north or south from Flagler Street at night, or north or south to Flagler street in the morning. Look at a map and you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about.  As bad as the streets are, however, nothing compares to the icon of Miami traffic that is…

THE PALMETTO F$%#&*^ EXPRESSWAY

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If there is one symbol for everything that is wrong with Miami, it is the Palmetto. Why is the Palmetto so awful?  Well, there are a few reasons.
First are the areas it travels though.  Doral, which you may have heard of for its famous Golf Course, has also become a popular location for Office Parks. As has Miami Lakes, another area right off the Palmetto. As has Kendall. So at any given time you have a good portion of Miami’s population driving to work on this same stretch of ever-constructing road.


Secondly is Hialeah. Hialeah aside from being the poster-boy for lawless driving, is also home to most of the warehouses in the city. Add in enough semi-trucks to fill the highways of most states in the Midwest, sprinkle in some gravel trucks coming from the nearby rock quarry, add that to perpetual construction and suburban commuters and you have a recipe for hours of head-pounding frustration.

Interestingly, Hialeah is also home to a lot of trucks selling fruit off the back. Or trucks selling just about anything off the back. And it is not uncommon for some of these exemplary cases of defensive driving to get into accidents on the Palmetto. So say you are driving to work in Doral one day and, whoops! All of a sudden a truckload of flip-flops has overturned in the middle of the road. Or bananas. Or churros. Either way you may be redirected to the dreaded Hialeah Surface Street, which encompass an entirely different numeric grid in the middle of Dade’s countywide grid. Did I mention the mayor of Hialeah once punched guy out on live TV during a traffic jam on the Palmetto? I think you’re starting to get the idea.

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But there is good news. A decade-long widening project has made the Palmetto somewhat more bearable. Traffic now flows pretty smoothly in either direction until a mile or so before the interchange to The Dolphin (SR-836). The County is currently building a massive new interchange there, but for now it’s a giant mess. Make sure you slow down (you’ll pretty much have to anyway) and follow all signs carefully once you get there. The interchanges come up quick and are in counter-intuitive places.

IF YOU HAVE TO GET LOST….

There is a city just southwest of Miami called Coral Gables. It is home to expensive homes, expensive shopping, expensive bodies, and street signs you couldn’t see with Night Vision Goggles. For some reason, Coral Gables, the ever-trendy rich suburb that is home to the University of Miami, wanted to be totally different than the rest of Miami. As a result, they completely abandoned the grid and instead gave us a labyrinth of winding streets with names that sound like pasta sauces. So you may be heading north on Salcedo Street and then all of a sudden you are going west on Albegna and then southeast on Anastasia. And you come out two miles south of where you started.

Don’t try looking at street signs, either. In order to make ABSOLUTELY SURE you knew you were not in Miami, Coral Gables also abandoned the easy-to-read white on green street signs with the not-so-nearsighted friendly black on white. Written on stones. On the ground. So when you are driving around you not only can’t read the signs, you can’t even see them unless you happen to drive a car that sits 8 inches off the ground. The good news is the median income in “The Gables” is roughly 900 times that of everyone else in Dade County. So getting lost there, while extremely irritating, will most likely not find you carjacked like so many German tourists.

However you decide to drive here in Miami, just be sure you are ready for anything. While our traffic can be horrible, it is by no means unavoidable if you set your job and residence up the right way. Understand that most of the people around you are inexperienced, old, drunk and uninsured and you will be well prepared for automotive life in South Florida.  Just make sure you get that uninsured motorists coverage. It may be the one bet you make with the insurance companies you actually win.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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2 Comments on

"Why Miami Traffic is So Bad (And How To Avoid It)"

Marc says:

The 836/Dolphin has gotten worse in the last 6 months due to the Palmetto new ‘off ramps’ Traffic is slammed from the airport back to almost NW 27th (first exit after 95 & Hospitals). When I worked at 3PM in Doral last year, usually by 2PM, I was ok. Now by 2PM is backed up, badly..just sad really..the SR 112 to Airport use to be a good short cut but 836 drivers are flocking there (in a slow manner) so its become un-avoidable. While I still get through the BS in only 18 or so additional minutes, it is truly maddening and I avoid accidents almost daily now :-(

Posted on 12/04/2012 at 12:52 AM

efasser says:

That’s so true…

Posted on 01/28/2013 at 1:11 PM

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