Overseas Highway – Florida Keys FL


“The Overseas Highway is a 127.5-mile (205.2 km) highway carrying U.S. Route 1 (US 1) through the Florida Keys. Large parts of it were built on the former right-of-way of the Overseas Railroad, the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Completed in 1912, the Overseas Railroad was heavily damaged and partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. The Florida East Coast Railway was financially unable to rebuild the destroyed sections, so the roadbed and remaining bridges were sold to the State of Florida for $640,000.”



The F.E.C. Railway was washed up in more ways than one – it was bankrupt like Monroe County. Monroe County’s population was mostly in Key West; therefore, for the county to survive, either the railroad or the highway had to exist. The highway in the Upper Keys was not seriously damaged. The highway won and the F.E.C. right-of-way from Florida City to Key West was available for $640,000 plus some tax debts to be forgiven. The Public Works Administration approved a loan to the Overseas Road and Toll Bridge District for $3.6 million. The District in turn issued revenue bonds to be repaid with road tolls. The grand total was now about $8 million, roughly one-seventh what it cost Flagler to build the railroad, and roughly equal to the Army Corps of Engineers estimate just to bridge the water gaps. 

      B. M. Duncan was chosen as the District’s general manager and chief engineer to convert the railroad bridges. First purchased was the railroad right-of-way. For a vehicular highway it had to be much wider than the width of a railroad track. Sealed bids were opened on May 18, 1937 to start the project. The State Road Department constructed concrete bridges on timber piles at Tavernier, Snake and Whale Harbor channels. Groves, Lundin & Cox did the Upper Keys’ roadwork. The two moveable spans were done in-house by the District...

The highway was opened for traffic on March 29, 1938 using the old Card Sound and south Big Pine Key routes. The Lower Keys route to/from Key West followed the original State Road 4A  route along the Atlantic ocean. The only route changes were the addition from Lower Matecumbe Key to Big Pine Key which became a toll road. The official opening was July 4, 1938. Greyhound Bus Service began almost immediately as well as other distributing services. Former Florida F.E.R.A./W.P.A. director Julius Stone’s 1934 exhortation to Key West of its tourist potential was now a reality. The Gibraltar of the South had a usable vehicle artery to and from the mainland.”


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Location Info

Overseas Highway

Coordinates: 24.743574, -80.990621

One comment on “Overseas Highway – Florida Keys FL

  1. The Florida Keys have a rich history of accomplishments not found anywhere else. It is really hard to image that 100 years ago the only land-bound access to sunny Key West was Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. 

    Not many people alive remember the railroad that began as “Flagler’s Folly.” It was the dream of a true American visionary. When completed, Flagler’s feat was hailed as an engineering accomplishment on a par with the Panama Canal. It proudly served Southern Florida for 22 years as the majestic “Overseas Railroad” and its glory and its future were ultimately destroyed in less than 24 hours.

    An amazing account of “The Last Train to Key West” can be found at http://quilligrapher.hubpages.com/hub/lasttrain. This dramatic chronology revisits the last three harrowing days in the life of the famous “Overseas Railroad.” It also follows the arduous seven-day journey back to Miami endured by many of the holiday tourists who were stranded in Key West after the railroad’s destruction.

    Many of the pedestrian walks and fishing piers along the Overseas Highway where once bridges built to carry rail passengers to Key West. Today, they are monuments left for us by the Overseas Railroad. They are constant reminders of a precious era of Florida’s history. I congratulate the Living New Deal for keeping the memory of the Overseas Railroad alive.

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