What does it take to deter an express-lane diver on I-95? According to the Florida Department of Transportation, installing 32,000 orange highway poles may be doing the trick.
Since the state agency doubled the number of highway poles along Interstate 95 last year, crashes in the express lanes have gone down by about a third in the last six months, and tickets given for lane diving — when drivers run over the dividing poles to get in or out of the express lanes — has plunged by 87 percent, FDOT District 6 Secretary James Wolfe said Tuesday.
Drivers were regularly running over the flexible poles separating the express lanes from the main highway, since the poles are designed to spring back if a car pushes through them illegally, Wolfe said. That wear and tear on the old poles meant the transportation agency was replacing them at a rate of 4,000 a month.
“They shouldn’t be doing that — it’s worthy of a $179 ticket and it’s unsafe,” he said.
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The new markers are sturdier and meant to survive up to 200 hits, Wolfe said. In addition to the increased number of markers, FDOT has also publicized the lane-diving problem — and the tickets that can be given for doing so. The agency is also building five emergency stopping zones up to 1,500 feet long to make it easier for troopers to pull cars over for ticketing and remove disabled vehicles from the road.
“There are way too many crashes, always were,” Wolfe said. “We need to continue improving that.”
FDOT announced in June last year that it planned to double the number of highway poles on the stretch of I-95 between downtown Miami and the Golden Glades Interchange, placing the sturdier orange replacements twice as closely together. In the six months since the poles were replaced and doubled, Wolfe said, the replacement rate for the markers has declined by 92 percent and the number of drivers in the express lanes has increased very slightly.
FDOT also commissioned a study on how the construction of the express lanes in the last decade has affected traffic crashes. The answer? Very little, Wolfe said.
“Fatalities are somewhat down, injuries are about the same,” and the number of traffic crashes increased slightly, he said. According to the study, those statistics remained similar although traffic has increased 15 percent on that portion of I-95 since 2005.
“The Florida Highway Patrol’s top priority is the safety of the traveling public,” FHP spokesman Yosdany Veloz said in a statement. “We applaud the positive results since the new markers have been installed and look forward to the completion of the emergency stopping sites.”
The replacement highway markers are still being installed by DBi Services, a contractor that was sued earlier this year by other pole manufacturing companies for allegedly helping sell fake highway dividers to the state. Wolfe said the inspector general’s office had found the company in compliance with the contract and closed the case.
“We’re not aware that there were any markers that were out there that did not meet standards,” Wolfe said. The pole replacements also mean that “whatever was put out there is long gone.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described DBi as the manufacturer of new highway markers on I-95. It is the installer.