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At WLRN, we’re starting a new project: Palm Readers. No, we’re not psychics, but our team of reporters does want to help you answer questions you’ve been wondering about in Miami, Palm Beach, Broward or the Florida Keys.Because great journalism begins with a question. So what is it that you want to know about South Florida? The WLRN News team is curious and we know you are too. That’s why we’re asking you to participate in Palm Readers, our new public-powered journalism project. Help shape the stories you hear on the radio. Here are some of the questions we're investigating now:Why do chickens roam around freely in Key West?What's the deal with the scales at Publix?How can I accurately look at the vulnerability of a property that I am considering buying?Have one? Ask away. Loading...

Do You Really Know South Florida Roads? You Sure?

South Floridians drive, a lot. And for people who didn’t grow up here, are new to the area or just directionally challenged, navigating roads in South Florida can be difficult.

It can seem like there are eight names for the same road with nicknames and numbers like Dolphin Expressway, Red Road, Dixie Highway, and Alligator Alley. And the not-so-secret thing is that the same roads can be called a bunch of different things.

Credit Gregory Castillo / WLRN
The place I-95 becomes US-1

As part of our Palm Readers project, a listener submitted a question she had about what’s up with the highway nicknames. She asked: Where do these highway nicknames come from and why are they often not on the highway signs?

Click play below to hear our journey to answer the question.

If you’re too impatient, you can see the short answer below.

Digging into this question led us to second-guess our own sanity and our ability to navigate South Florida.

Take our quiz to see how much of a South Florida road expert you are. (As a baseline, the WLRN Newsroom average was 38 percent.)

So there are two parts of the question Lory Hayes asked: No. 1: Where do the nicknames like the Dolphin come from and No. 2: Why are those nicknames not often on the green overhead directional signs?


Credit Averill Hecht / AA Roads
AA Roads
An old sign for the Dolphin.

In 1973 and 1974, the Miami Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowls. Then, the Florida Legislature passed a law designating the 836 as the Dolphin Expressway.

But names can change over time and in different sections of the same road. For example, in 1998, the official designation of the Gratigny Parkway became the Marlins Expressway.

Also, the section of 836 between the Palmetto and Florida's Turnpike is officially called the Master Sergeant Benjamin Strickland Highway, not the Dolphin.

There’s a long list of all these name designation online, which includes when that name took effect. You can find the list here.

Part of the explanation of how the state determined road numbers


The second question is a little bit more wonky, and the answer has its makings starting back in the early 1930s. Up to that point, each municipality and state was on its own when it came to signage.

“Everybody was kind of doing their own thing,” said Mario Diaz, who used to work for Miami Dade Expressway.

As cars became more popular, affordable and reliable, people started driving longer distances and inconsistent signage became an issue. So in the '30s, a group of people got together and attempted to standardize road signs and set guidelines for making them clear and safe for drivers reading them.

That became Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the MUTCD, aka the traffic engineers’ bible.

It set what was allowed on road signs, how big they needed to be, what color they are and where they should be positioned.

So the numbers for roads, like SR 836, or I-95, will never change and will almost always make it on the signs.

But why do you often see the name “Palmetto” on road signs, but not the Dolphin?

Credit Google Maps Street View
Google Maps Street View
The lone Dolphin Expressway direction sign.

Tere Garcia, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Expressway, asked around for us.

“So it’s an interesting question, but not quite true,” she said.

She found a single overhead green sign that says “Dolphin Expwy.” 

It’s the size of sign that’s an issue here. Most of the signs that point to SR 836 are either too small or just have too much on them to fit “Dolphin” and still meet standards about readable road signs.

So, if you want to find the lone Dolphin sign drive southbound on the Palmetto north of the Dolphin interchange and look up just after NW 25th Street.

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