Drivers in south Florida owe a debt of gratitude to Florida NMA member Norman Wartman, former vice chairman and current board member of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, and longtime advocate for smart transportation policy.
Norman’s recent letter to the NMA demonstrates how perseverance, patience and creative thinking can truly make a difference for the hundreds of thousands of motorists who must navigate one of the most congested stretches of urban interstate in the country. We’ll let Norm pick up the tale from here:
It has been almost 40 years since the speed limit on Interstate 95 in Miami-Dade county was reduced from 60 mph to 55 mph. In August, the speed limit was raised from 55 mph to 60 mph.
How did this happen?
I-95 was one of the most congested sections of interstate in the country with four general purpose lanes and one HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane in each direction, and no barrier between the HOV and general purpose lanes.
The HOV lanes were a failure; very few users were legitimate car poolers. Seventy percent were families—a mother or father with kids, retired husband and wife—or any vehicle with two or more people, whether they each had a driver’s license or not. The speed difference between the HOV and the general lanes was only 5 mph due to perceived side friction. The rush hour speed of the general purpose lanes was about 15 mph and that of the HOV lanes was about 20 mph.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), with the support of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), doubled the number of HOV lanes while keeping all the general use lanes. They separated the HOV lanes from the general use lanes with tubular delineators for about 8 miles and changed the rules of access. Car pools now have to register three licensed drivers to qualify to drive free in the new “Managed Lanes.” The old HOV lanes were only accessible to buses and car pools, but the new lanes are open to anyone willing to pay a toll that varies from 25 cents to $6.00 (depending on the volume of the traffic).
Essentially, these segregated Managed Lanes constitute an eight-mile, four-lane rural interstate within an eight-lane urban interstate with intersections a mile apart.
So, what’s happened?
The rush hour speed in the Managed Lanes has increased from 20 to 62 mph and from 15 to 42 mph in the general use lanes. The average speed of I-95 through Miami during free flowing conditions is now over 60 mph.
Buses using the Managed Lanes now make three trips in the time it used to take for one trip, and more importantly, they’re providing better, more reliable, service to riders. Demand has increased and 16 new buses have been added to the fleet. However, all this success has created more challenges: county buses have a speed governor of 55 mph, and they like to stay in the left lane and obstruct traffic.
Over the past six months I have discussed the need to increase the speed limits with the secretary of transportation and the head of FDOT Traffic Operations for this district. FDOT did the required study and requested approval from FHWA which granted the request to increase the speed limit from 55 mph to 60 mph for all lanes of I-95 in Miami. We should be seeing an additional increase in the speed limit on the Managed Lanes to at least 65 mph when a construction project at the north end of corridor is completed next year.
I have also spoken with the transit director about modifying the speed governors on buses as well as other equipment upgrades to Miami-Dade’s 1,000 + bus fleet and a change in bus driver protocols before the end of this year. They need to follow the rules we all should be following—“slower traffic keep right” and “left lane for passing only” (when possible).
Miami-Dade Transit recently agreed to my requests. They are purchasing new tires for their buses rated for 65 mph. They will follow the same rules we all have to follow and will flow with the traffic, not obstruct it.
Editor’s Note: Norman Wartman is a board member with the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority where he previously served as vice chair and wrote its “Active Traffic Management Policy” which mirrors NMA Policy. He is the immediate past chairman of the Miami-Dade County Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, has been an active member of the committee for more than 25 years and currently is Chairman of it’s Surface Transportation Subcommittee.