While certainly needed to improve road infrastructure, the construction on the I-75 in Sarasota County has been a sore subject for locals. Those who commute daily on the I-75 for work have to contend with terrible traffic, distracted drivers, and hazardous construction zones: the perfect storm for accidents.
Indeed, accidents have surged since construction began on the I-75, and although construction will end in a few months, drivers wonder if Sarasota will be able to improve conditions on I-75 construction zones in the meantime to keep people safe.
Residents blame the construction for the increase in accidents, pointing out the narrow lanes and construction workers moving in and out of the lanes. “There’s no room for error. It’s not like I can move over to the right or the left because there are barrels there,” Sonji Lewis told the Herald Tribune.
Authorities disagree that construction is the cause of the recent slate in accidents, instead placing the blame on distracted drivers. “The construction site is not doing it. It’s the drivers on the road and their behavior that’s causing these crashes,” explained Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson Robin Stublen to WTSP. Ultimately, FDOT says there is little more it can do to fix the safety issues during construction, and instead relies on drivers to do the right thing on the road and be cautious going forward.
While there is no doubt that distracted driving – which is growing increasingly common in Florida – may be contributing to the accidents in the construction zones, locals wonder why Sarasota County is not improving infrastructure around the construction anyway.
The construction zone speed limit is 70 mph in most areas, dropping down to 60 mph in only the most hazardous areas of construction. Sarasota residents question why FDOT cannot lower the speed limit even further. A lower speed limit would not only help to reduce accidents, but would make accidents that do occur - either due to the construction zone hazards or instances of distracted driving - far less deadly.
FDOT officials disagree with the idea of lowering the speed limit, citing the fact that it would cause more speeding by frustrated drivers who expect the standard interstate speed limit. However, Sarasota residents say that narrowing the lanes of traffic while not lowering the speed limit is dangerous, which shows clear resident interest in lowering the speed limit around construction.
There are infrastructure solutions even if the FDOT does not lower the speed limit. Florida is one of many states that enforces enhanced penalties for speeding in a work zone. Although most states with enhanced penalties also set a much lower speed limit for construction zones, Florida can at least ensure drivers are more mindful in the construction zones by placing signage that reminds drivers of the enhanced penalties, along with other safety signage.
The Florida Highway Patrol reported 292 crashes on the I-75 in Sarasota County already this year, and with a whole summer left of construction, locals will continue to put pressure on local authorities to do something about the unsafe road conditions. Until then, residents should be mindful of tailgating, keep their eyes on the road, and reduce their speed in construction zone areas to avoid accidents.
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