Miami traffic costs locals an average of 125 hours a year and you don’t want to be part of that number while you are on vacation. Make the most out of your time by understanding what expressways to avoid at what times of the day.
You also need to understand the tolls and street systems to successfully navigate the area. Once you get these, navigating Miami traffic will be a breeze.
The Worst Expressways for Miami Traffic
Miami has a reputation for having some of the worst traffic and is one of the most congested cities in the United States. There are ways for getting around the city without having to sit in a gridlock for hours, but you have to stay way from these expressways at certain times of the day.
If you are trying to go south from 7 am to 9 am or north from 3 pm to 7:30 pm, you might as well forget it. These are peak times for commuters who work downtown.
If you do insist on driving on I-95, you will notice High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. These lanes run from north of Miami to north Dade. You can only enter these lanes before 112/I-95 and you can only get off at the Golden Glades exit.
Some people want to go careening across the plastic barriers – but don’t. Not only is this illegal, but it is dangerous to you and the drivers around you.
Do not enter these HOT lanes if you are trying to go anywhere between downtown and Northwest 183rd street as there are no exits. HOT lanes only accept SunPass as payment, so you are out of luck if your rental agency didn’t give you one of these or you didn’t purchase one beforehand.
US-1 runs from downtown Miami to the Keys and is also known for its horrible Miami traffic. Stay away from the northbound lane between 6:30 am and 9:30 am. If you want to go south, make sure to stay away from 3 pm to 7:30 pm.
US-1 gets congested during these times as locals are commuting, but also because of road construction. On the weekends, you can expect the lanes to have higher than normal traffic because people are taking advantage of the weather in south Florida. Who wouldn’t want to travel to the Keys?
Plan your day around these peak hours if you do plan on making the trip to south Florida or the Keys.
The most congested part of the Florida Turnpike is north of SW 40th Street to the County Line. Nighttime is worse, so keep that in mind if you are planning on a date night.
Another downside to the turnpike is you have to pay to be stuck in traffic. Note that no cash can be used on the turnpike, you have to have a SunPass. If you do not have a pass, count on a bill when you get home. They have cameras to take a picture of your license plate and send you a bill for a higher toll rate. Not a good way to end your vacation, so it is important to plan ahead.
Also known as the Dolphin Expressway, the 836 is the east to the west expressway in the county. Going east is most congested during 7 am and 9:30 am.
If you don’t have a SunPass, you will have to pay the toll when going into downtown and South Beach. While it is $1.25, the toll adds up if you are traveling over other expressways that require payment as well.
Purchasing a SunPass is worth it if you are going to be in town for a while as line for the toll booths will only take up your precious vacation time.
The Palmetto Expressway travels through Doral, Miami Lakes, and Kendall. These areas have office parks, golf courses, and lots of construction. The expressway also travels through Hialeah, which has a reputation for horrible drivers.
The combination of commuters, out-of-towners, and road work make the expressway a disaster.
Basically, stay away from the Palmetto expressway unless you absolutely have to use it. If you do use it, count on construction, waiting in traffic, and watch out for the reckless drivers around you.
How to Navigate Miami
Think about purchasing a SunPass or ask your rental car agency if they provide one for you. A pass can be purchased from places like Walgreens, CVS, Sedano’s, and service plazas. The mini sticker costs $4.99 and requires a minimum balance of $10 to open a personal account. The sticker transponder affixes to your windshield so you can pass through the tolls without cash.
Need ideas about what to do? Try reading Things to Do in Miami With a Rental Car
Stay away from Miami traffic by avoiding rush hour driving, which are the times listed above. While being late is socially acceptable in Miami, leave a good amount of time to get to your destination, especially if you have an important appointment.
South Florida is much easier to drive through than the expressways, so there is a bright side. Most of the area is set up as a grid system. Generally, avenues run north and south with streets running east and west.
Coral Gables is the exception to this rule as the streets are circles and have names. To make it even harder, many of the names are painted on the ground. Coral Gables is notoriously difficult to navigate, so turn on your GPS and double check where you are going before you leave.
Flagler Street in Miami-Dade is the zero street and Miami Avenue is the zero avenue. From the zero streets, remember the northeast addresses are located north of Flagler and east of Miami Avenue. Southwest addresses are south of Flagler and west of Miami Avenue.
Be careful driving in Miami – Miami Driving: Why Drivers Fail to Use Turn Signals
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You Can Navigate Miami
While it may seem overwhelming at first, you can navigate Miami traffic smoothly once you have an understanding of the system. Stay off the expressways during rush hour and take note how the streets work in Miami-Dade. Remember to purchase a SunPass if you decide to rent a car. Find the best rental car to get a head start on your Miami vacation.