I-95 express lanes getting sturdier poles to keep drivers in place

To cut the chaos in and out of Interstate 95’s express lanes in Miami-Dade, the Florida Department of Transportation is planning to install sturdier poles and broader shoulders.

The poles — replacing skinny and missing ones — will help eliminate “lane diving,” when drivers cross the barriers to get in or out of express lanes from downtown Miami to the Golden Glades, FDOT District 6 Secretary James Wolfe said.

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There will be twice as many poles, spaced at 5 feet instead of 10 feet, installed by the fall at a cost of $2 million, Wolfe said.

FDOT hopes part of the cost will be recovered in savings on replacing the poles, District Director of Transportation Operations Debora Rivera said. FDOT replaces “an average of every pole every year” at a total cost of $1 million. The current design, Wolfe said, will be able to spring back into place after up to 200 hits.

An impatient Miami-Dade driver of a mind to make an illegal cut in or out of the express lanes can still rumble over one of the newly spaced poles, although it will take more driving skill. The closer placement means a shorter sight line when checking the rear-view mirror for oncoming traffic before making an illegal cut.

“We fully expect it will influence driver behavior,” Wolfe said.

Still, he said, “the best technology is a full-width shoulder with a concrete barrier wall. The problem is we can’t get a concrete barrier wall within a four-foot area with safe separation from the travel lanes. So, we have what we have there. This is urban Miami. Land is very limited. And this is, in fact, the best treatment we have available to us with the constraints we have.”

Wolfe said the single, reversible express lanes used on Interstate 595 and being installed on Interstate 75 wouldn’t work for I-95. During the rush hours, when the express lanes are in heaviest use, the Broward highways’ traffic is more heavily weighted in one direction than I-95’s traffic.

On the inside, the shoulders, which are barely able to accommodate a Vespa scooter, will be expanded in five spots to allow space for vehicles with doors open and 1,200 to 2,000 feet long. Instead of sitting partially in the left express lane as a crash-ready obstacle, vehicles and their drivers can have space to deal with whatever situation stopped them there.

As for the stopping zones, they’ll be created by moving barrier walls. That takes more time (estimated early 2018) and money ($8.5 million). Wolfe said the construction costs are unrelated to tolls.

Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Chris Delleprieta said, “We also feel the wider shoulders will enable us to do our jobs in a safer, more proficient manner.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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