The network of South Florida SunPass express lanes is slowly growing with the construction of another leg scheduled to start in January.
The new lanes will be built on State Road 826/Palmetto Expressway, from West Flagler Street to Northwest 154th Street, including a flyover connector to Interstate 75 where toll lanes will continue all the way to Interstate 595 in Broward.
The lanes will be in the center of the Palmetto and the median of I-75, said Judy Solaun-Gonzalez, senior project manager for the Florida Department of Transportation district six office in Miami.
Her office will oversee construction on the Palmetto and I-75 from Flagler to Northwest 170th Street. FDOTs district four office in Broward will be responsible for the segment on up to I-595, Solaun-Gonzalez said.
The network is being developed in South Florida to improve mobility and relieve congestion, she said. It is expected to take four years to complete.
The Palmetto-I-75 express lanes will be built at a cost of about $745 million. The portion managed by FDOTs district six in Miami is expected to cost about $275 million, said Solaun-Gonzalez.
Besides allowing toll-paying drivers, FDOT also will host rapid transit running to and from the BB&T Center Park-and-Ride facility in Sunrise to Metrorails Palmetto Station in Miami-Dade, said Solaun-Gonzalez.
Once completed, the express lanes will link up with reversible express lanes currently under construction on I-595 a project expected to be completed in 2014.
The network soon will have additional spurs, including an extension of the original Interstate 95 express lanes from Miami-Dade into Broward. The so-called Phase II express lanes into Broward are expected to be completed late next year.
The plan is to eventually connect each of these separate branches of the network.
Floridas Turnpike has begun construction to widen the Homestead Extension and add express lanes between Southwest 216th Street and Eureka Drive. This project is the first of a series of upcoming construction projects that ultimately will provide express lanes from north of Tallahassee Road in south Miami-Dade to State Road 836, the Dolphin Expressway.
The express lane system will have a 1.5-mile break between State Road 874 and Killian Parkway to allow for traffic to enter or exit the SW 120th Street Interchange and Snapper Creek Service Plaza from the inside lanes.
Miami-Dade Expressway Authority officials, who operate 836, recently said they plan to add express lanes on 836 and other authority toll roads within five to eight years.
FDOT also has begun to study the possibility of extending the Palmetto express lanes along the east-west stretch that runs all the way to the Golden Glades Interchange where it converges with I-95, the turnpike and the Palmetto.
It is also possible that a connection between I-595 and I-95 express lanes will be built eventually.
Once all these express lane branches are completed, perhaps after 2020, commuters willing to pay the price will be able to travel at higher speeds during peak hours from central Broward to downtown Miami.
For example, a commuter living near the Sawgrass Mills shopping mall eventually will be able to travel to downtown Miami by taking the express lanes on I-75, the Palmetto and on 836. Or that motorist might want to take the express lanes on 595 east to the I-95 express lanes, then south to Miami.
The idea of a South Florida network of express lanes was first outlined in Miami by Florida Secretary of Transportation Ananth Prasad during a visit to Miami in August 2011.
In a speech to FDOT employees, Prasad said the goal was to link all major highways in Miami-Dade and Broward with the express lanes.
Solaun-Gonzalez said FDOT is currently looking to pick a design-build team by November and begin construction sometime in January.
The express network began with one single spur running on two left lanes of northbound I-95 in 2008, from State Road 112 to the Golden Glades. Later, two southbound lanes were added.
Since then, speeds on all northbound and southbound lanes have increased during peak travel times.