Florida residents battle Florida traffic lights

Not all traffic lights are created equal. Driving in Virginia, you could have the view of the southernmost tunnel to the Chesapeake Bay. Or you could have the Big Sur, or the Owasso Downtown…

Florida residents battle Florida traffic lights

Not all traffic lights are created equal. Driving in Virginia, you could have the view of the southernmost tunnel to the Chesapeake Bay. Or you could have the Big Sur, or the Owasso Downtown Tunnel or the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in Virginia.

This is the Joe Mountain Road Signal, which allows one to cross through a tunnel or tunnel-like underpass, taking a quirky shape — the name is a riff on the county’s hilliest and longest road in terms of its length — all in one long trek.

For decades, the Joe Mountain Road Signal changed to red 24/7, even after no cars had passed.

Image copyright ORLANDO MARTINEZ/CORBIS Image caption Many drivers here have seen the strange traffic light for decades

And few have had the luxury of actually passing through the tunnel. But in those decades, the poor little red-light whippersnapper stuck to the side of the road by a bunch of barns, never moving but having his head up every now and then.

Managers of the signal and the hardy locals spent years at war. “They wanted to make it white, they wanted to change it to green,” says Linda Hill, a Joe Mountain Road resident and board member of the Hunter Mountain Nature Association, which is trying to raise funds to restore the former roadway.

“Or keep it at red,” adds Town Planner Richard Bailey. “Nothing solved it.”

Polly Curtis has been driving along the pockmarked road for 35 years. “When I first started driving here it looked like an enormous cliff,” she recalls.

“Somebody would drive through that thing at 80mph and not go anywhere,” says Ms Hill.

Image copyright ORLANDO MARTINEZ/CORBIS Image caption Many drivers have come across the unusual traffic signal while driving in the Florida Keys

“You could make it green for a few seconds and it would turn red,” says Ms Curtis. “You could pass through a few times and then it would change back.”

“One guy,” she continues, “took a picture of his vehicle sitting there with the light red. He took a picture of his car at one time going through the tunnel. He’s just now able to repair his car.”

Drivers have a different experience in other parts of Florida, including the keys.

The Big Sur Bridge (the big bridge in the picture up there) was painted white while floodwaters closed it off. And drivers who have passed through the Crazy Horse Trail in Arizona have had a similar outcome.

They too have passed through a tunnel that changed colours at night.

But Joe Mountain Road isn’t falling victim to rising waters. Nor is it being replaced with a new highway.

Rather, its owner, the State of Florida, has decided to close it during rush hour and on busy days.

As local councillor Harry Swierski explains: “They are trying to keep the traffic moving as fast as possible.”

All Florida has allowed is a single lane to be maintained on both sides of the street, with two off-ramps and one on-ramp serving all the drivers in the valley.

The reason it’s stuck is because those who live here are now fighting to keep the tiny road open.

Originally their goal was to find a solution that would make the road attractive to vehicles rather than having it disappear altogether.

The level of interest only increased after people saw a local ad for ‘paint your own rainbow.’

These are hard days for local residents such as Mr Swierski.

“I wouldn’t go out for the day if it weren’t for the JML, so it just snowballs.”

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