A recently proposed Florida Senate bill would end highway express lanes and create new rules for using revenue generated from tolls.
In early January, state Sen. Frank Artiles of Miami filed SB 250, which seeks to stop officials from implementing new express lanes beginning July 1. If the bill becomes state law, revenues from current express lanes could be used only to pay off bonds that initially funded the lanes. After the bonds are paid, the bill seeks to convert the current express lanes to general traffic lanes.
As of mid-January, the bill had been referred to several Senate committees: Transportation, Appropriations, and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.
The new bill comes after a long battle over dangerous express lanes in parts of the state, including Miami. Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, has written extensively about lane diving and other reckless driving in the I-95 express lanes, and we believe SB 250 can save lives if it becomes law.
Reasons Behind the Bill
Sen. Artiles has called the express lanes a “money-making scheme” for the state’s coffers. But he also believes that the express lanes pose dangers for motorists. He noted that more than 12,000 accidents have been reported in the Miami-Dade County express lanes in the past three years.
Many speeding drivers move in and out of the express lanes, darting between the poles and into oncoming traffic. By quickly pulling into traffic that is traveling much faster or slower, these lane-divers have caused multiple wrecks, resulting in numerous fatalities and serious injuries.
Little shoulder exists on the fast-moving highway, leaving motorists scant room to pull off if they have trouble. Law enforcement officers also have complained of the dangerous conditions and the lack of room for doing their jobs.
Artiles cited five fatalities that have occurred as he noted the dangers of the express lanes. He also said that revenues are less important than safety.
The Florida Department of Transportation has continually asserted that the lanes are safe and that reckless driving is responsible for the accidents.
Mixed Reactions to Express Lanes
Critics and proponents of the express lanes have voiced their opinions about the use of the lanes in South Florida. The lanes incorporate a concept known as “dynamic tolling” to charge drivers a higher rate during peak congestion and lower the tolls when traffic eases. State officials argue that the system helps allay congestion.
Opponents of the toll lanes, along with some motorists, contend that the lanes create other problems like lane diving — with many drivers weaving through the separator poles on the highway.
With express lanes already in place on I-95 through Miami-Dade, the state has continued its initiative to add lanes to the interstate in Broward County. Additional plans call for extending the lanes north to Delray Beach’s Linton Boulevard. A current study also is gathering data on whether the lanes should be extended to Jupiter.
Lanes also are planned for other areas of South Florida on the Florida Turnpike. The newly proposed bill would apply only to lanes on highways that Florida DOT owns and not to express lanes on the turnpike.
Problems in the Miami Area
In January 2016, Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, created a petition asking lawmakers to take immediate action to protect Florida drivers who use the express lanes on I-95 through Miami.
The poles are intended as delineators to keep drivers within either the express lanes or the regular lanes, but many drivers ignore them and move into the lanes that suit them at the time. Changing from one set of lanes to another is prohibited, but the poles do little to stop drivers.
In 2016, the Florida DOT announced that it would reduce the spacing between poles and replace the existing poles with sturdier versions designed to prevent lane diving. As of early 2017, the plan has failed to make the express lanes any safer.
Will SB 250 Become Law and Save Lives?
Despite the measures taken by FDOT to reduce lane diving in the I-95 express lanes, the highway remains extremely dangerous to motorists — and to individuals who must get out of their cars due to stalls or accidents. By passing SB 250, the state Senate can take an important step toward making Florida’s roads safer for its citizens.