Broward News

New Express Lane Poles May Actually Make I-95 More Dangerous

In April, Aledys Llorens was riding his motorbike in the I-95 express lanes through northwest Miami-Dade when a driver abruptly plowed through the orange plastic poles, cutting him off in the process.

Llorens, a 28-year-old Hialeah resident who worked at Port Everglades and had a four-year-old daughter, couldn’t come to a stop in time to avoid rear-ending the car. The impact of the collision launched his body into the air and threw him onto the opposite side of the highway, WFOR-TV (Channel 4) reported. He died almost instantly.

Unfortunately, this kind of accident is not uncommon. Between 2005 and 2014, there have been more than 17,500 crashes on the 13-mile stretch of I-95 that runs through Miami, according to the Florida Department of Transportation’s data. While it’s hard to know exactly how many of those involved lane-diving, it’s worth noting that the total number of crashes on this section of I-95 has increased by more than 50 percent since 2008, when the express lanes were first added.

Last week, the FDOT announced that it would spend $1.2 million on new, more durable poles to mark the I-95 express lanes. Since they don’t have to be replaced as often, the FDOT estimates it’ll save the department millions of dollars. The poles will also be placed closer together, which is supposed to deter drivers from cutting through them.

The only problem? They may actually make the already terrifying process of driving on I-95 even more dangerous.

Mark Kaire, an attorney with Kaire & Heffernan in Miami, has become an outspoken voice calling for the FDOT to fix the express lanes. He’s represented countless victims of car accidents caused by lane-diving, but his frustration also comes from commuting on I-95 from his home in Aventura to his office in Brickell.

“I drive it every day, so I’m infuriated on a daily basis,” he says.

He points out that by placing the poles at five-foot, rather than ten-foot, intervals, the FDOT is just making it harder for people who are already determined to illegally jump from one lane to another to see what they’re doing.

“They’re going to try to reduce the number of accidents by reducing drivers’ sight lines?” he asks rhetorically. “That’s just asinine. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Furthermore, the new poles don’t do anything to deter drivers who regularly flout the rules and drive right over the plastic poles.

“From an economic perspective, they’re better for the FDOT,” Kaire says. “They’re going to be run over 200 times instead of 15. But they’re not going to mark the cars, or damage cars, which would discourage people.”

The FDOT has told the Miami Herald they can’t build a concrete barrier between lanes, which would seem to be the obvious solution to the lane-diving issue, because I-95 isn’t wide enough and there’s no room to widen it. So should we just scrap the express lanes? Actually, Kaire has an idea that’s so simple it’s hard not to wonder why the FDOT hasn’t implemented it already: “Make it one lane, not two. That gives you the ability to create a continuous shoulder, which you really need, and then you have room for a concrete barrier. Without cars changing lanes, there’s less room for accidents. The only accident that could really happen is a rear-end collision. That would be the ideal solution.”

An issue that’s even easier to fix, he points out, is the lack of signage. If you think back to your first few times driving in the express lanes, you likely can remember having a moment of panic when you realized that you had absolutely no idea whether you’d be able to get off at your exit.

“Motorists don’t know where the lanes end and where they start,” Kaire says. “Especially heading northbound, approaching Ives Dairy Road, people don’t know that if you don’t exit, you’re going to get stuck.” When they realize they’re about to miss their exit, they go crashing through a wall of plastic poles at 70 miles per hour, often jumping into a lane where cars are at a complete standstill. It’s a miracle when there isn’t an accident.

The Florida Department of Transportation has not responded to requests for comment. This story will be updated if they do.