Some real relief is finally here for motorists who’ve had to navigate a tangle of ever-shifting temporary exit ramps during the long-running reconstruction of the Palmetto and State Road 836 interchange — but there may be a bit of, ahem, a learning curve.
The contractor on the massive $560 million project has opened four new permanent ramps and flyovers along the complex interchange, giving drivers traveling both ways on SR 836 what should be a clearer, wider and more-direct access to the southbound Palmetto as well as West Flagler and Southwest Eighth streets.
But that means the old ramps and access points will be closed, and motorists must now learn the location of new access points. Highway officials say there will be plenty of big, clear directional signs in place for guidance, though they expect some initial confusion.
“The big thing is, pay attention to the signs,’’ urged Oscar Gonzalez, a spokesman for the interchange project, a joint venture between the Florida Department of Transportation and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.
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The changes affect the stretch of SR 836 between Northwest 72nd and 87th avenues.
The biggest change to be aware of: SR 836 motorists approaching the Palmetto from either the east or west will have two choices for heading south —but only one connector from each direction will provide access to Flagler and Southwest Eighth streets.
On westbound SR 836, only the second southbound exit, which lies west of the Palmetto, will lead motorists down to Flagler and Eighth streets, along a long loop.
On eastbound SR 836, unlike the current configuration, drivers who want to exit on either Flagler or Eighth streets must now bypass the old Palmetto south exit and stay in the main lanes to take a new southbound ramp. The existing southbound ramp connecting to the Palmetto, meanwhile, will be replaced by a parallel bridge that provides no exits onto those two surface streets.
Highway officials are confident motorists will quickly get the hang of the new configuration, which was designed to simplify what had been an ad hoc arrangement of exits and approaches grafted on as the highways were gradually expanded and realigned over the years. The new arrangement is also more efficient and can handle more vehicles, Gonzalez said.
“We took this intersection and it’s being rebuilt from the ground up,’’ he said.
Another advantage is that all exits are now to the right, eliminating the indecisive weaving that could make a hazard of the old highway span as some eastbound SR 836 motorists lurched left to go south on the Palmetto.
The opening of the new bridges on Sunday will mean that 23 of the 45 bridges the reconstruction will require have been completed, Gonzalez said.
“Opening these ramps is definitely key,’’ he said. “It offers some relief.’’
Alas, the overall interchange reconstruction, which began at the end of 2009, is far from done. Completion is not scheduled until 2015.
Coming next, in a matter of weeks: the opening of a westbound “collector road’’ running parallel to SR 836 that will distribute exiting motorists to surface streets, allowing a freer flow of traffic on the highway, Gonzalez said.