Let the countdown for aggravated east-west motorists in Broward begin: less than one year to go until the $1.2 billion Interstate 595 project is finally done.
But for more than three years, drivers using the main east-west thoroughfare in Broward County have had to deal with ramps being closed, familiar exits being changed, and new signs and orange cones popping up weekly.
“Every time I drive on 595 or the turnpike in and around 595, it is like driving on a road I have never been on,” Kathleen Jarvis of Margate told The Miami Herald’s Public Insight Network. “The traffic patterns change more often than some people change their underwear.”
But the state’s Transportation Department says once the project is done, it will be worth all the turmoil.
The project includes reconstruction of the interstate and improvements to frontage roads and ramps from the I-75/Sawgrass Expressway interchange to the I-595/I-95 interchange. The work includes about 10.5 miles on I-595 and approximately 2.5 miles on Florida’s Turnpike from Peters Road to Griffin Road.
When completed, the project will include three express lanes with variable tolls and reverse direction for peak travel times. Transportation officials have not finalized the toll prices but they are expected to range from about 50 cents to $2, and will be collected via SunPass at a toll gantry just west of Flamingo Road.
But for all this to happen, last year engineers had to hoist a 5 million-plus pound flyover ramp vertically by 18 inches to connect southbound University Drive with the eastbound route.
Originally state transportation officials had planned to remove both flyovers at University Drive but ultimately decided to raise the ramp to keep one whole bridge and use half of the one being lifted, an alternative that saved time and reduced the cost.
By 2014, workers will finish the direct connections between the Florida’s Turnpike median (north/south of I-595 interchange) and the I-595 express median (just west of the Florida’s Turnpike).
The final major piece of work calls for the closing of the ramp from eastbound I-595 to eastbound SR 84 at Hiatus Road and the ramp from eastbound SR 84 to eastbound I-595 at Hiatus Road through Nov. 3.
No other major closures are expected at this time but the Florida Department of Transportation posts upcoming closures at www.i-595.com.
The changes were needed, the Transportation Department said, to accommodate the expected increase of vehicles on the pavement over the next 20 years.
In 2014, the projected average daily traffic between University Drive and Davie Road — the busiest segment — is expected to be 244,600.
Two decades from now, daily traffic on that same stretch could reach 355,360.
But with the improvements being done now, an average trip during peak rush hour is expected to take 5 to 10 minutes less, Transportation Department officials said.
I-595 initially opened in 1989, and just three years later was tested by the massive population explosion in western Broward County after Hurricane Andrew decimated South Miami-Dade.
As the cities of Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Weston grew, so did the traffic as residents fought through rush hours to get to and from downtown Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere.
Even those who have used the interstate for years say it’s been difficult to navigate while the construction has been going on, rendering them much like a baffled out-of-state tourist.
“I throw my proverbial hands up in the air and say all right this is a new adventure,” Jarvis said. “You have to be willing to go with the flow, and not worry “Am I headed in the right direction, the wrong direction or, oh my God, it is blocked off? I can’t go the way I normally go.’ You have got to be willing to be up for an adventure every time you come onto 595.”
Describing traveling on I-595 a “complete nightmare,” Nancy Murphy said she tries to take local roads from her home in Plantation to her job in Sunrise.
“Any time I can avoid that mess — it is absolutely terrible — I will take side streets instead of 595 if I can avoid it,” she said.
Many commuters complained about the safeness of driving on the interstate.
“Coming home at night is an adventure because of the lack of lighting,” said Larry Lowenthal, of Cooper City. “And signs aren’t so good where people have to get off.”
But many drivers say with the frequent traffic pattern changes, the trip requires extra caution.
“Too many knee jerk decisions by drivers that over-shoot their change of lane for an exit,” said Gordon Kirk of Davie. “Some have been observed to cut across three lanes of traffic in order to make the new exit.”
Karen Wall, of Plantation, said there were times when there wasn’t enough time to get over to her Pine Island exit.
“Oh my God, they don’t even give you time to get over,” Wall said.
The number of accidents on I-595 — the entire interstate and not just the construction zone — increased from 1,200 to 1,500 between 2011 and 2012, according to Florida Highway Patrol Broward spokesman Sgt. Mark Wysocky. That’s a 25 percent increase.
Some drivers “just weren’t paying attention,” Wysocky said.
But now that it’s a few years into the reconstruction project, the barricades, orange cones and closures have become part of the new normal that drivers expect.
While on her way to the Flamingo Road Nursery, Wall said she easily found the signs for her exit.
“I’m getting a little used to it,” she said.