Sound barrier, ramp signals and express lanes promise to ease traffic
By Starla Vaughns Cherin
Florida Department of Transportation’s I-95 Express construction promises to ease traffic congestion and increase traffic flow with new express lanes, tolls and ramp signaling. These traffic mechanisms are already operating in Miami-Dade County with success and are expected to begin in Broward in late August.
During last week’s community transportation workshop, F.D.O.T. Project Manager Robert Bostian outlined work to be done on Phase 3A of the Broward leg of improvements and get input from community members.
“We’re taking it all into consideration,” said Bostian. “We look at this as a regional approach. The purpose of the work is to improve mobility, relieve congestion friction, provide additional travel options and accommodate future growth in the region.”
The first segment of construction in Phase 3A begins at Broward Blvd. and goes to Atlantic Blvd. The construction is implemented in segments due to funding limitations with 3A beginning in early 2016. The full Phase 3 of the project spans 29 miles from Stirling Road in Broward to Linton Blvd. in Palm Beach County and is scheduled for final completion in 2019.
FDOT study of traffic noise in residential areas is a consideration within the construction plans and resulting increased traffic. Noise barrier walls are erected to decrease traffic noise to residents. Meeting with the residents of River Gardens and Sweeting Estates to discuss the issue, FDOT conducted a noise barrier analysis of the area and found it did meet the minimal five decibel reduction criteria to receive a noise wall.
The study conducted in northwest Fort Lauderdale on May 8, 2012 from Sistrunk Boulevard Northwest Sixth Street to the North Fork of the New River between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and found without the wall, noise levels rise to 68.1 to 70.2 decibels. With the wall the noise is reduced to less than five decibels on the east side of 21 Terrace to between 10 and 11 decibels on the west side of 21 Terrace.
The proposed noise barrier wall will be a 20 foot tall ground mounted wall along the back of the homeowner’s properties on the east side of N.W. 21 St., and an eight foot tall barrier along the inside shoulder of I-95 directly opposite of the 20 foot wall. “The proposed sound walls for the River Gardens/Sweet Estates Community is planned to be constructed five feet within the FDOT Right of Way/property line,” says Bostian.
“We had a neighborhood meeting with FDOT last month and more than 30 showed up,” said Bernadette Norris-Weeks, president of the Sweeting Estates Home Owners Association. “We have been fighting for the wall for a long time working with Senator Chris Smith. It will help the people in this neighborhood because they are suffering already”.
“We would like it to be extended along the New River but we are happy for the improvement and will help with the noise that is already at a peak. At a minimum we hope it will remain the same and not increase. Given the fact the improvements will increase the flow of traffic we hope it doesn’t increase the noise and it will bounce off the wall. We don’t want it to be any worse that what it is.”
There will be another meeting with the Home Owners Association where the sound wall is proposed prior to the beginning of construction.
When you begin to see stop lights at the entrance ramps on I-95 don’t get alarmed, they are a part of new traffic control mechanisms that aid the flow of traffic. There will be 14 ramp signals installed from Hallandale Beach Blvd, to Atlantic Blvd. northbound and southbound.
When entering I-95 if the light is red, cars make a short stop and when the light turns green proceed onto the I-95. Just that short amount of time breaks up the groups of cars merging onto the road and increases the overall flow of traffic.
“The ramp signals are used during peak and will relieve the stacking up of traffic at entrance ramps. Just this small amount of time leaves gaps in the flow of traffic making it safer, easier and faster for cars merging onto the highway,” said Bostian
Ramp signals used in Miami-Dade are proving effective. They have reduced travel time during weekday rush hours. Signals increased travel speeds by 16 percent on northbound lanes and 13 percent along southbound lanes.
Current HOV lanes will become tolled express lanes and one additional toll express lane in each direction in conjunction with three to four general use lanes are will be constructed during Phase 3 of 95 Express. “Existing HOV lanes are un-deprutilized,” says Bostian. “Toll expressway opens it up to those traveling single and for more people to have access to the ex-press lane promotes greater traffic mobility for the tolls lanes and general use lanes. The project also adds an additional Express Lane by widening the existing I-95 pavement to provide two Express Lanes in each direction.”
The Express lanes are an additional travel option and should be used for long term travel and propose to improve mobility, relieve congestion on the non-tolled general use lanes and enhance transit system travel because buses and registered car pools will travel toll free. Broward’s Express Lanes will have a direct connection to I-595 and ingress and egress locations at nine locations from Stirling Rd to Congress Ave. Phase 2 of 95 Express already underway in Miami Dade extends northward from the Golden Glades Interchange to Broward Blvd. Two express lanes will continue to Stirling and one to Broward Blvd.
“Direct connect ramp will connect to the median or inside portions of the roadway,” says Bostian, “Travelers in the express lane can stay in their lane to access I-95 from I-595 express, or stay in the lane rather than move out of lane and weave into the outside lane and traffic.”
Toll costs vary and are based on the Dynamic Tolling method. The toll will be higher during peak periods when there are more vehicles and during non-peak periods. This congestion pricing technique helps maintain traffic flowing freely by regulating the amount of vehicles accessing the express lanes.
According to studies this week on southbound 95 Express tolls rise from 50 cents to $4.50 between 6 – to 9 a.m. Northbound between 5-7 p.m. tolls rates drop from $4 to $2.50.
Tolls are free for registered carpools of three participants or more, registered hybrid vehicles, Miami Dade and Bro-ward Transit, registered south Florida vanpools, motorcycles, and emergency vehicles, registered over the road motor coach vehicles.
Tolls are collected electronically, so toll-paying drivers need to own and display a SunPass transponder which can be purchased at Publix, CVS Pharmacies or Turnpike service plazas.
Road widening along I-95 is underway at various locations throughout the project area. Up to three travel lanes are closed nightly in the work zone, between 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 p.m. Friday to noon on Saturday.
Bridge widening is ongoing along I-95 at Stirling Road, Hollywood Boulevard, Pembroke Road, and Hallandale Beach Boulevard in Broward County and over the Snake Creek Canal in Miami-Dade County. Nighttime lane closures on I-95 and local streets occur as needed Sunday through Thursday, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
FDOT operations staff oversees 95 Express operations 24 hours per day, 7 days per week with the help of the ITS devices deployed along the express lanes. Dedicated traffic operators monitor the highway’s conditions through Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras and roadways detectors. They also post traffic information through the Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) and 511 Traveler Information System to alert drivers of the roadway’s conditions in real-time.
Call 511 or log onto www.fl511.com to learn about real-time traffic conditions and determine if the 95 Express is the best option for making your trip before leaving for your destination or log onto 95Express.com and click project overview to get weekly construction bulletins to aid your travel plans.