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I-595 at University Drive back open after flyover is lifted

At an average of an inch per hour, the 5.2 million-pound flyover ramp that connects southbound University Drive with eastbound Interstate 595 was gingerly hoisted on Sunday, as thousands of cars were rerouted from the area.

By late Sunday, workers lifted the steel and concrete ramp eight more inches to reach the goal of 18 inches.

University Drive and I-595 in Davie, closed for a 24-hour period that began at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, reopened by Monday morning rush hour, with the exception of the flyover ramp on southbound University.

“It’s not a very active type of activity,” said Melanie Sexton, a project spokeswoman, describing the slow-moving process. “It’s more of the coordination of everything that is going on in the ground that is more interesting.”

For most of Sunday, synchronized hydraulic jacks slowly raised the bridge and a team of about 50 workers inserted 18 shims that hold up the flyover. The south part of the ramp will be removed in order to make room for more lanes that will widen I-595.

The original plan was to remove both flyover ramps that connect University Drive and I-595. Raising the ramp was the alternative that helped save time and taxpayer dollars by keeping one whole bridge and using half of the one being lifted.

“You can’t see it, but it’s pretty neat,” Plantation resident Sandra Jones said. “Just to be able to do it and save money is impressive. The planning, construction and engineering is terrific.”

Florida Highway Patrol joined forces with Plantation and Davie police as about 30 officers were assigned to help the flow of traffic around the closures.

“Everything has gone very smoothly,’’ FHP Sgt. Mark Wysocky said. “We haven’t had any issues.”

But for Davie resident Elizabeth Ordonez, the massive work project meant a 20-minute delay to get across University Drive.

“The traffic is really bad, I hope it’s going to improve,” Ordonez said.

The project will continue to impact traffic. For regular I-595 commuters traveling south on University Drive, the project means about one extra cycle of the traffic light in order to turn left – or east – onto I-595.

“It was always a congested intersection,” Sexton said. “Most people expect to sit through two or three cycles of the signal before they get through this intersection. It’s still going to be waiting like they are used to.”

The work will also cause minor delays on State Road 84, as the light to cross University Drive will stay red a couple of seconds longer than usual.

Lifting the flyover is part of the $1.8 billion improvement project that started in February 2010 and will cover 13 miles of roads and ramps from the Interstate 75/Sawgrass Expressway interchange to the I-595/I-95 interchange and Florida’s Turnpike from Peters Road to Griffin Road.

“Worst part is that the new turns are a little confusing, it doesn’t show you exactly where to go,” said Plantation resident David Williams, who commutes on I-595 several times a week. “I figured it out by trial and error, but I got lost a couple of times.”

The renovations will continue and they include a reconstruction of the turnpike interchange at I-595, additional lanes on I-595, improvements to surrounding roads and ramps and a reversible three-lane express system that will operate similar to the express lanes on I-95.

Once completed, all traffic using the express lanes in one direction will be required to pay a toll, Sexton said. “Depending on how much traffic is in the general purpose lanes, they will be able to lower or raise the rate to get more people to use the express lanes.”

The southern end of the flyover ramp that connects southbound University Drive with eastbound I-595 will take about 10 weeks to rebuild and will remain closed until about a week before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Drivers can also expect the closure of the second flyover that connects northbound University Drive and westbound I-595 in early 2013.

The project, expected to end in summer 2014, has been ahead of schedule and is looking to be completed in the spring 2014.