I-95 Express Lanes in Jacksonville Could Bring More Danger Than Convenience


As the long heralded Overland Bridge Project enter its final stage of development, motorists are increasingly concerned with the growth of “express lanes” — lanes designed to shorten commutes for those willing to pay. Officials and residents across the state have begun to question both their effectiveness and their potential to increase the number of car accidents.

A history of Jacksonville’s road development was recently showcased by First Coast News, ending in a profile of the toll lanes the Florida Department of Transportation is set to install on the Beltway from I-295 to the Buckman Bridge. The lanes provide drivers willing to open their wallets with a quicker commute and ease congestion in normal lanes. Some call the arrangement into question, believing express lanes only improve the commutes of those willing to pay and leaving others out.

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But some are concerned that the express lanes might bring a new element of danger, too. One example is drivers dipping in and out of the express lanes to take advantage of their speed but avoid paying the tolls. If the lanes do increase lane switching, it could lead to more car accidents.

Other parts of the state have experienced or fought off the expansion of toll roads and lanes in their areas, which affect some municipalities more than others. Here’s how the rest of the state has responded, and what toll lanes might mean for Jacksonville.

Response is Mixed Elsewhere in Florida

FDOT is rapidly expanding the role express lanes play in Florida roads. Three other big cities, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, have experienced firsthand the divisive role they play, ranging from unfairness to danger.

Miami’s Vice

One of the most prominent express lane installations took place on I-95, the interstate running along east Florida that Jacksonville shares with Miami. Some Miamians are furious, with publications like the Sun Sentinel suggesting I-95 has become more dangerous.

FDOT’s initial response was to add tightly packed, bright orange poles, among other safety features, but Miami motorists aren’t thrilled. The poles are damaged in some areas, and allow drivers to shift into the express lanes for a faster trip. One woman lost half her right leg according to the Miami New Times, and she and experts argue “lane diving” through shoddy barriers in an effort to avoid fees but still get the benefit of faster travel spells disaster.

Many aren’t certain the express lanes even free up traffic, and their potential to cause more danger have left drivers wary and media outlets eager to investigate.

The prices for using the express lanes along their entire route can also approach levels of outrage, coming out to $1.50 a mile and topping out at $10 for an entire journey on the leg of I-95 in Miami, depending on usage. This phenomenon could be seen in Jacksonville.

Tampa’s Troubles

Another express lane project cropped up in Tampa. FDOT was eager to pare down{: target=”_blank”} the number of lanes drivers could use on the proposed Howard Frankland Bridge replacement in either direction from the current four to three and an express lane, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Some Tampa politicians and residents have gone so far as to say FDOT misled the public and the city’s officials by flatly reducing the number of free lanes instead of adding any additional ones.

FDOT strongly denied the claims, but they haven’t slowed down their pace. Plans for the future are even more ambitious, saddling commuters with tolls on many prominent interstates, such as I-275 which connects Tampa to I-75, I-4, and many of the city’s adjacent communities.

Expansion on Tampa’s most prominently tolled roads, the Veterans and Lee Roy Selmon Expressways, have given the city pause when it comes to future installations.

Jacksonville’s lack of toll roads until this installation means motorists may not be familiar with them, and may not like them in the future either. Only time will tell.

Orlando’s Optimism

Orlando is a different beast entirely, playing host to the I-4 Ultimate project and an immense network of roads that either have toll lanes, or soon will. Some, like State Roads 408, 417, and 528, can cut travel time in half going from areas like the University of Central Florida to I-4, but costs almost $15 round trip. Other highways, like I-4, will soon play host to express lanes to complement the tolled state roads.

But criticism is relatively muted these days from many of the city’s officials and media sources like this Orlando Magazine piece which bemoans the construction, but sees the tolls as a foregone conclusion. Many any residents recognize that Orlando is more than their city, but also one of the world’s tourism capitals.

Perhaps the city’s perpetual construction wore down the appetite for complaint, and express lanes don’t look so different from the toll state roads that have popped up.

The roads, though often inconvenient, serve the region’s two million residents and the city’s tens of millions of tourists. In light of this, some in Orlando maintain a cautious optimism that some good may come from express lanes.

Jacksonville’s Future

This kind of significant expansion is expected in Jacksonville too, with toll lanes covering the East Beltway between Butler Boulevard and SR-9B. Some envision tolls running all along the I-295 beltway.

Jacksonville previously flirted with tolls from 1955 to 1988, when the city’s expressway authority organization was dismantled and FDOT stepped in. Now, FDOT is poised to pick up where Jacksonville’s own authority left off more than forty years ago, and install toll roads and express lanes throughout the region.

If a serious traffic pattern change like toll lanes is as dangerous and incendiary as the political dialogue across the state, you could expect more mishaps, and even car accidents during and after express lane construction. This is on top of the toll you’ll be expected to pay for using the interstate.

Your Commute Could Get Dangerous

Express lanes on I-95 have given pause to many Miamians, and Tampa officials have forestalled their development to a significant degree on I-275 and the Howard Frankland Bridge. In Orlando, paying to drive is business as usual. But how Jacksonville citizens see the toll lanes remains to be seen.

The question of economic fairness and fairness in general looms over the growth of express lanes, too. In some places like Orlando, using them costs a pretty penny but shortens your commute. In others like Miami, consensus builds around the idea express lanes are dangerous, and could be responsible for some accidents.

Accidents can happen, especially on roads undergoing significant change. The addition of tolls and other unfamiliar features can drastically affect driver behavior, and possibly contribute to accidents. If you’ve been injured in an auto accident through no fault of your own, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek representation.

Our Jacksonville office is staffed with some of Morgan & Morgan’s premier attorneys. Our knowledge could be invaluable when negotiating with insurance companies on your behalf.