A major shift in traffic on the Dolphin Expressway will disrupt driving routines as construction enters a new phase at one of South Florida’s busiest highway interchanges.
Starting early Sunday, traffic going west on State Road 836, which now stays to the right, will be shifted to the left lanes. And traffic headed to State Road 826, the Palmetto Expressway, West Flagler Street or Northwest 87th Avenue/NW 12th Street will be shifted to the right lanes.
The shift is only the latest major milestone in the $560 million project to overhaul the massive interchange linking 836 with 826, partly funded by federal stimulus money. The construction project, which began in 2009, is expected to be finished in the first three months of 2016.
The change on Sunday, when traffic is lighter, could cause confusion, congestion and delays among the commuting crowd during Monday’s rush hour and beyond.
That’s what happened in early 2014 when workers shifted the 836 westbound lanes to the right and the 826-bound lanes to the left, also as part of the interchange reconstruction.
Thousands of people were late for work for a few days while drivers adjusted to the new traffic pattern.
“It’s going to take about a week for people to adjust,” said Oscar González, the 836-826 project spokesman.
To ease headaches, messages are being displayed on electronic boards along the expressway. González suggests that drivers should pay close attention to signs because they will be changed to reflect the new traffic pattern.
Before the interchange reconstruction began six years ago, the driving pattern for decades had vehicles going westbound on 836 staying in the middle lanes while traffic going to 826 staying either to the left or the right.
Drivers that took a left exit to 826 wound up on a flyover that deposited them in the southbound lanes just south of West Flagler Street. Traffic that stayed to the right ended up on ramps that went northbound and southbound, respectively.
After construction began, the first major change on westbound 826 came in early 2012 when workers eliminated the left exit to 826, demolishing the flyover. That left exit will not return after the project is completed next year.
“That was the first major change,” said González, the project spokesman. “The next major change was switching all traffic that was going northbound or southbound on 826 onto the left hand side of the westbound 836.”
The new traffic pattern scheduled to begin Sunday, with exit ramps on the right, will remain in place for the duration of the project, González said. But he warned that as the project enters its final phase, drivers should expect more traffic pattern changes on both 826 and 836 as new roadways, ramps and bridges open.
The shift starts just west of the Northwest 72nd Avenue exit ramp.
“Right after that ramp we start to split everybody up,” González said.
Workers will shut down westbound 836 late Saturday in anticipation of the shift. When 836 westbound lanes reopen at 6 a.m. Sunday, traffic bound for the Palmetto will have to move to the right and traffic staying on westbound 836 will need to stay in the left three lanes after the 72nd Avenue exit ramp.