Workers put the finishing touches Tuesday on the new westbound lanes of State Road 836, the Dolphin Expressway, which are scheduled to open this weekend near Miami International Airport.
Weather permitting, all traffic on westbound 836 will be shifted onto the new lanes just to the north of the current roadway from NW 57th to 87th avenues.
The shift marks yet another significant traffic pattern change in the project to overhaul the massive interchange between two of the busiest expressways in South Florida: 836 and 826, the Palmetto Expressway.
Started in November 2009, the $560 million project is nearing its end. Oscar González, the project spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said workers will complete the work in the first quarter of 2016.
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Also, the weekend traffic shift will serve as preparation for another — perhaps more important — change the following weekend when traffic will be shifted to new eastbound lanes on 836, González said. That shift also will enable workers to open new soaring ramps that connect the two expressways.
The new flyovers are the centerpiece of the reconstruction project, aimed at decongesting the interchange and preparing it for an expected influx of even more traffic in the future.
“Right now, we are projected to finish within the first quarter of next year,” González said. “This is aimed at improving the flow of traffic.”
González said at least 430,000 vehicles per day use the interchange, but the number is expected to increase to 535,000 by 2030.
“Before we started the renovation, the interchange was a parking lot,” he recalled.
The expressways that intersect at the interchange are two of the most important in Miami-Dade. The Dolphin runs west to east from Northwest 137th Avenue to Interstate 95. It is a toll road operated by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. The Palmetto is a non-toll road running from Dadeland to the Golden Glades interchange in North Miami-Dade operated by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Unlike some previous traffic shifts associated with the project, the change scheduled to go into effect over the weekend is not expected to create confusion among drivers. That’s because exit ramps to 826, 72nd Avenue, 87th Avenue or Flagler Street will remain on the right side close to their current locations.
In preparation for the shift, workers will shut these ramps starting at 11 p.m. Friday and continuing through Sunday morning, when the shift will take effect, González said.