The asphalt has barely begun to be laid in Broward County and already changes are being proposed to the Interstate 95 express lanes with an eye toward extending them to the north.
The plans include creating a second tolled express lane in each direction between Stirling Road and Broward Boulevard. But to make room, the existing lanes and shoulder widths will have to be changed through Fort Lauderdale. And some bridges might have to be expanded if a more drastic overhaul of the highway is undertaken.
But if it means being able to more quickly get somewhere on I-95, “(I’m) all for it,” said Joshua Goldberg, who uses the lanes whenever he drives on the highway. “If you’re willing to spend a little extra money then you should have designated lanes with less traffic.”
Construction is already under way to add express lanes from the Golden Glades interchange to Broward Boulevard. But from Stirling Road to Broward, there’s only room for one such lane in each direction by converting the existing HOV lanes.
So state officials are looking at four “concepts” to add a second lane in both directions from Stirling to Broward and to extend the express lanes north to Oakland Park Boulevard. The highway must be modified to squeeze in the extra lane.
Costs range from $70 million to $700 million. Because there’s no money for construction in the state’s five-year work program, officials may look to private financing to get the project rolling sooner, as it did with the reconstruction of I-595.
“We’ve have some challenges and constraints where I-95 crosses the New River and constraints at the interchanges where I-95 passes underneath,” said Ray Holzweiss, project manager for the Florida Department of Transportation.
The state faced a similar squeeze when it needed to create two express lanes in each direction through the Interstate 195/State Road 112 interchange in Miami. Ramps were modified and two bridges had to be raised.
Three of the concepts propose varying lane and shoulder widths and minor widening to create a second express lane. Both lanes would be separated from regular traffic by plastic poles.
In some stretches, lanes would be 12 feet wide, but then narrow to 11 feet on bridges and where I-95 passes under cross streets, and then go back to 12 feet. Shoulders also would be reduced and vary in width.
The fourth and most expensive concept would build a concrete barrier to separate the express lanes from other traffic. But all lanes would remain 12 feet.
The barrier would require widening 12 bridges and replacing 39 spans. Interchanges at Broward Boulevard and Sunrise Boulevard and the flyovers that connect I-95 to Broward would have to undergo major alterations.
For long-time residents, talk of any construction on I-95 through Fort Lauderdale may dredge up bad memories of the ’90s when the highway was widened from six lanes to eight or 10. It was the last section widened from Miami to Delray Beach over a six-year period.
But the I-95 express lanes have proved popular since being introduced in December 2008 in Miami-Dade. Rush hour travel speeds are up, even in the regular lanes. Drivers pay to use the express lanes, with tolls based on volume. Buses, motorcycles, registered hybrids and registered carpools can use the express lanes for free.
In Miami-Dade south of the Golden Glades, I-95 was re-striped with narrower lanes to create two express lanes and four regular lanes in each direction. The only major construction or widening was at the I-195/S.R. 112 interchange.
In the current project, I-95 bridges over four cross streets in south Broward are being widened.
Holzweiss said having two express lanes in each direction through Fort Lauderdale is important for continuity.
The DOT already is studying extending the express lanes as far north as Linton Boulevard in Delray Beach. If segments north and south of Fort Lauderdale have two express lanes in each direction while the stretch through the city only has one express lane each way, the result could create an hourglass effect that would choke traffic.