The express crunch on I-95: Life in the fast lane is more crowded, costly

 
 
Entry into the I-95 express lanes ranges from 25 cents to $7. The system’s "dynamic tolling" increases prices as the lanes get more congested. By driving up prices, traffic is driven back into the general-purpose lanes, easing congestion on the express lanes.
Entry into the I-95 express lanes ranges from 25 cents to $7. The system’s "dynamic tolling" increases prices as the lanes get more congested. By driving up prices, traffic is driven back into the general-purpose lanes, easing congestion on the express lanes.
John VanBeekum / Miami Herald Staff

WLRN-Miami Herald News

Life in the fast lane is more popular, more expensive and more congested than ever. And it might get even costlier.

The price of entry into the Interstate 95 express lanes in Miami-Dade County ranges from 25 cents to $7. The system’s “dynamic tolling” raises the tolls as the lanes grow more congested. As the tolls increase, traffic is driven back into the free, general-purpose lanes, easing congestion in the express lanes.

At least that’s the theory.

New numbers from the Florida Department of Transportation suggest drivers have become less sensitive to “Lexus lane” sticker shock. As of October, there had already been 112,119 $7 trips through the express lanes just this year. That’s a 125 percent increase over 2012, 2011 and 2010 combined.

“If we do not raise the toll cap, we will continue to have difficulties in achieving the department’s goal of a minimum 45 mph 90 percent of the time during peak periods,” said Rory Santana, Miami’s 95 Express manager. Peak traffic times are considered 6 to 9 a.m. southbound and 4 to 7 p.m. northbound.

FDOT held a public hearing last week on rule changes that would increase the toll cap on 95 Express from $1 per mile to $1.50. The functional maximum toll would increase from $7 to $10.50 until additional expressway construction is finished, because the shortest possible trip, from Interstate 195/State Road 112 to the Golden Glades interchange is seven miles. Work is underway to extend the express lanes north to Fort Lauderdale.

The rule changes would also increase the minimum toll on 95 Express from 25 to 50 cents. The proposed toll hikes still have to go before a group of state lawmakers. If approved, the changes would likely take effect in March.

Express-lane congestion hit an all-time high in August. And FDOT reached its minimum-speed goal only 63.9 percent of the time during rush hour, meaning the express lanes weren’t moving quickly enough.

December marks the fifth anniversary of the 95 Express project. And despite the recent drop in the lane’s speed reliability, FDOT says drivers on both sides of the plastic candlestick dividers have benefited.

According to the 95 Express Annual Report released in April, the monthly average speed of southbound and northbound traffic in the general-purpose lanes during their respective peak hours has been 50 mph and 42 mph. That’s compared to 15 mph and 20 mph before 95 Express.

And for the express lanes, the average-speed increase is even more drastic since their switchover from toll-free hihg-occupancy vehicle lanes. Before 95 Express, both southbound and northbound HOV lanes averaged 20 mph during their respective peak periods. With the express lanes, the southbound average is now up to 63 mph and northbound 56 mph.

This report originally was produced by WLRN-Miami Herald News for wlrn.org.

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