Like hundreds of other drivers on Interstate 95, Coral Love sits in her stopped vehicle each morning backed up at the southbound Lantana Road exit ramp, warily watching her rear-view mirror.
“It’s no good being at a dead stop when people driving like maniacs whiz by you at 70 mph,” said the 22-year-old Greenacres resident who works at Little Caesars Pizza in the Publix plaza at that exit. “It’s scary.”
State transportation officials know they have a problem. They acknowledge that ramp backups at rush hours are happening, especially in central county.
“Vehicles stopped on I-95 is not a situation we want drivers to be in,” said Lisa Dykstra, strategic intermodal system/concept development coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation in District 4, which is the area from Broward County north to include Indian River County.
With that in mind, about $28.2 million in ramp improvements are planned to start by the end of 2014 at four exits from 10th Avenue North in Lake Worth south to Woolbright Road in Boynton Beach. Among the changes are:
- On 10th Avenue North, one more eastbound turn lane will be added for I-95 drivers exiting both north and south.
- A new exit ramp lane to eastbound Lantana Road for motorists exiting off southbound I-95 is planned.
- At Hypoluxo Road, I-95 exit lanes will be extended and eastbound turn lanes added.
- On Woolbright Road, eastbound and westbound turn lanes will be added for drivers exiting north and south.
In all, FDOT traffic experts are studying 17 ramps between Linton and Northlake boulevards.
The danger is just one aspect. Road rage is another. Motorists roll their windows down and scream as they cut in front of each other to avoid the long lines. The backups are getting drivers tickets. Just ask Boynton Beach Police.
Officers on traffic patrol at the top of the southbound off-ramp at Gateway Boulevard write about 125 tickets a month, Boynton Beach Police Sgt. Rich McNevin said. On June 5, police wrote 25 tickets in an hour. A citation is $166.
“I don’t blame drivers for getting ticked off. I would too if someone tried to skip in front of me after I waited through three or four traffic signals,” McNevin said.
Even I-95 motorists not exiting the highway are in danger.
“I’ll be driving to work and suddenly I see these cars stopped in the right lane,” said auto technician Sam Bazad, who drives daily from Boynton Beach north to work at Repairs on Us on Hypoluxo Road. “I swerve left to avoid them. I’m afraid someone is going to slam into me.”
Merchants say backups hurt business, too.
“My customers tell me they simply give up trying to get to my store at rush hour. I’m sure they shop somewhere else,” said Shrikant Parikh, owner of the Dollar Value Store on Lantana Road. His store is in the Publix plaza, on Lantana Road just east of I-95.
Reasons for the backups are varied. Timing of the traffic lights at the top of the ramp is one. Rush-hour backups happen when exiting I-95 drivers stop at the red traffic light leading into the east-west road.
The solution seems simple. Extend the length of the green light to allow motorists more time to leave the exit ramp.
But it’s not that easy.
Increasing the seconds for motorists getting off the ramps — “green time” in the transportation biz — means reducing the time for east-west drivers to go over the I-95 overpass.
“It’s a balancing act. When you squeeze one side to make traffic lighter, it gets heavier on the other side,” said FDOT spokesman Chuck McGinness.
Another reason for backups is the width of the ramps.
Southbound Lantana, Hypoluxo and Gateway exits — where backups are common — have only one lane to exit from I-95. The ramps fan out to three lanes that empty vehicles east and west.
In other areas, the transition from highway to side street is easier. For example, southbound Okeechobee Boulevard drivers have two lanes to exit. The ramp fans out to five lanes to enter Okeechobee Boulevard — three to the east and two to the west. Backups there happen less often, according to transportation officials.
Compounding the problem is that Palm Beach County motorists drive more than the rest of the state. The total amount of miles driven by individual county residents increased about 90 percent in the past 20 years. Statewide, the increase was 79 percent, according to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
The I-95 section between Sixth Avenue South and Gateway Boulevard is the busiest county section of the highway, according to FDOT. More than 200,000 vehicles a day drive on that part of the interstate.
The least-traveled sections of I-95 in the study area are between Southern Boulevard and Belvedere Road with 139,000 daily vehicles, and between 45th Street and Northlake Boulevard with about 155,000, according to 2012 FDOT figures.
The fact that we overuse I-95 is another reason for the backups, said County Engineer George Webb.
“Too many drivers use I-95 for short trips,” Webb said. “They drive on I-95 just five or six exits. They don’t want to fight the traffic on the alternate roads. If we could improve the alternate routes, it would relieve congestion on I-95 and save motorists’ drive time.”
So far, four I-95 exit ramps have been identified as having backups by FDOT in its study of the 17 ramps between Linton and Northlake boulevards. The department plans to complete the study in July 2014.
The four interchanges are:
- Southbound Hypoluxo Road at afternoon rush hour;
- Southbound Lantana Road at afternoon rush hour;
- Northbound 45th Street at both morning and afternoon rush hours;
- Northbound Northlake Boulevard at both morning and afternoon rush hours.
Potential solutions from state and county planners include everything from new interchanges to improving alternative roads to adjusting travel lanes to tweaking the timing of traffic lights.
New express lanes, like those in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, are expected in 2017 from Broward County north to Linton Boulevard. The HOV lane will be converted to a toll lane for express drivers. Registered hybrids, car/van pools and buses ride for free. There are currently no plans to extend the express lane north of Linton Boulevard, said Jeff Weidner, FDOT strategic development manager.
Many drivers, as they sit fuming near an off ramp waiting to exit I-95, look at the vacant grass out their passenger window and wonder why the state simply doesn’t use that property to build another exit lane.
But buying land for right of way to expand the lanes is expensive, said FDOT District 4 Secretary James Wolfe. When the state widened Southern Boulevard between I-95 and State Road 7, buying the land cost four times more than building the road, he said.
“And that land was mostly light industrial. It was fairly cheap. If we have to buy up homes or more valuable commercial property — or go through the eminent domain process — it really gets expensive,” Wolfe said.
New and wider ramps and adjusting traffic lights are only band-aid solutions, according to transportation officials. More mass transportation, mixed-use developments such as Abacoa in Jupiter and better connections between land use and transportation are long-term goals, they say.
An example is the 1-million-square-foot Florida Power and Light campus under consideration in Palm Beach Gardens that could employ up to 1,800 people. A Tri-Rail station on the east side of the property near Kyoto Gardens Drive is under consideration. The goal is getting those workers — called choice riders — on the train and off I-95.
“We have to expand the range of choices for motorists,” said Kim Delaney, strategic development coordinator with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
FDOT plans the following improvements at I-95 interchanges:
Lantana Road: (Cost $6.1 million, start July 2013)
- Add eastbound turn lane on southbound exit ramp to Lantana Road
- Upgrade traffic signals, railings and signs
Hypoluxo Road: (Cost: $3.6 million, start mid-2014)
- Add eastbound right turn lane on Hypoluxo Road to southbound I-95 entry ramp
- Add second entry lane to southbound I-95 entry ramp from eastbound Hypoluxo
- Extend the lane length for the existing three southbound exit ramp turn lanes
- Add left turn lane on eastbound Hypoluxo Road to northbound I-95
Woolbright Road: (Cost: $12.9 million, start mid-2014)
- Add one eastbound left-turn lane on Woolbright to northbound I-95
- Add second entry lane to northbound I-95 ramp from eastbound Woolbright
- Add one westbound left turn lane on Woolbright onto southbound I-95
- Add second entry lane to southbound I-95 ramp from westbound Woolbright
- Extend eastbound and westbound left turn lanes on Woolbright Road to I-95
10th Avenue North: (Cost: $5.6 million, start mid-2014)
- Add one right-turn lane on southbound exit from I-95
- Add one eastbound left-turn lane on 10th Avenue to northbound I-95
- Add second entry lane to northbound I-95 ramp from eastbound 10th Avenue.