FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – Those variable toll SunPass express lanes on I-95 from Miami north to the Golden Glades are the way of the future according to the state’s transportation secretary.
During a visit to Miami on Monday, Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad laid out the big picture during a speech to FDOT workers. Over the next ten years, the state hopes to design and build a network of SunPass express lanes which would link Miami-Dade and Broward’s major highways, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
The I-95 SunPass express lanes are already scheduled to be extended north to Ft. Lauderdale. The variable toll express lanes are also part of the major project happening on I-595 from I-95 to I-75.
Prasad said design has just begun putting them on I-75 in Broward all the way to Palmetto Expressway. The express lanes would then go south on the Palmetto Expressway to State Road 836/Dolphin Expressway.
According to Prasad, the express lanes on the Palmetto Expressway could be completed in the three years and the entire next work up and running by 2017 or 2018. Approval for the project is expected by the end of the year. Construction could start next year.
Barbara Kelleher with FDOT told us the plan is likely going to move forward and, “It’s real.”
The plan is similar to 95 express, which opened up four dedicated lanes from Downtown Miami to the Golden Glades.
When first proposed a few years ago drivers were outraged by the thought of paying to use a free roadway. They dubbed them the Lexus lanes because that’s who would be using it.
A recent survey of 5,000 commuters showed that is somewhat the case. The average driver speeding down an express lane makes over $76,000. 60% are white and 60% are women. FDOT claims the free drivers though are still benefiting.
“The free lanes, the open lanes are running much better because some of that traffic is using the managed lanes.” Kelleher said.
Meanwhile, drivers who use I-75 in the daily commute have probably noticed some lane shifts going on. In an unrelated project, the state Department of Transportation is working on improving the Miramar Parkway interchange. The $11 million project calls for an additional lane in each direction to ease merging between the turnpike and Miramar Parkway. The plan also calls for modifying two the ramps on Miramar Parkway so that traffic stops at new signals.
The Griffin Road interchange is scheduled to get a similar makeover.
Two years ago, the Pines Boulevard interchange was updated with new off-ramps that stop at traffic signals.
On the Miami-Dade end of the highway, construction will begin this fall to add another lane on the I-75 ramp to the Palmetto Expressway and add an additional lane on the Palmetto from I-75 to NW 103rd Street.
Built nearly a quarter of a century, when western Broward was largely undeveloped, today more than 120,000 drivers use the highway on a daily basis.
Collecting tolls ranging from 25 cents to $5 has the express lanes paying for themselves. And now it appears many Broward drivers are eager to pay as well.
Andrew Faber commute estimates he drives 40,000 miles a year.
“Just with the express lanes that they did in Miami it’s made such a huge difference,” Faber said.
Stephanie Riguad said she pays tolls already to avoid traffic on I-75. She told CBS4 she could see herself using the toll lanes.
“You know what? Maybe that’s a good idea,” she said. “Maybe it will lower the traffic. I think it’s a good idea.”
CBS4 had a hard time finding drivers worried about paying a toll to use express lanes.
“If you are trying to get somewhere faster you are just paying for a shortcut,” Edgar Ramirez said.
Some of this has to do with money. People are driving less so gas taxes used to pay road improvements is dwindling. Express lanes generate their own funding through tolls. So not only are they considered an improvement to traffic flow, but it’s money for FDOT to keep moving forward.