Few issues unite Miamians across the political spectrum like the consistently frustrating, for-pay express lanes running north-south on I-95. Some critics claim the lanes kill people. Others say they let rich people pay to drive without traffic. But everyone can agree that few things are more infuriating that sitting in four lanes of dead-still traffic while two perfectly usable lanes sit empty across a makeshift lane barrier.
Miamians of all stripes who hate needless traffic and accidents have now found a new ally — state Sen. Frank Artiles, who proposed a bill yesterday to ban express lanes statewide. According to the bill's text, the state could still collect tolls to pay bond debts from existing express lanes, but once those debts are paid off, the lanes would have to be converted back to standard lanes.
"In Miami-Dade County, there have been more than 12,000 reported accidents in the express lanes over the past three years," Artiles said in a release. "Highway express lanes are unsafe, inefficient, and add an unnecessary burden for all users, as the numbers clearly show."
The bill marks a rare ascent to sanity for Artiles, whose 40th District encompasses parts of Kendall. The Republican state senator is otherwise better known for proposing an offensive, North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" in Tallahassee, which would have forced transgender people to use restrooms that matched their given birth genders. Artiles was also once accused of punching a college student at a Gainesville bar. (In more positive news, he also pitched a bill this week authorizing state hunting parties to eradicate invasive tegu lizards from the Everglades.)
But no matter a person's political makeup, traffic deaths are traffic deaths. And evidence suggests the express lanes on Miami's major north-south artery are hurting people. The lanes were added to the interstate in 2009 — and since then, analysts have said the lanes' narrow shoulders (which aren't wide enough for a full car) and the porous barriers between the lanes, which encourage "lane diving," have contributed to serious accidents on I-95.
In addition to being dangerous, the express lanes are needlessly costly: According to the Miami Herald, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) spends $1 million each year replacing worn-out barrier poles. In June, FDOT announced it would spend an additional $2 million on "sturdier" poles to discourage lane-divers, but those poles can still be driven over.
Commuters also casually refer to the lanes as "luxury lanes" because the state regularly charges drivers more than $10 to use the lanes during rush hour. (The toll prices vary according to traffic and the time of day.) But that toll money doesn't go to useful projects elsewhere in town; it's mostly spent on express-lane upkeep.
Plus, those exorbitant fees are supposed to discourage people from using the express lanes during rush hour — but the price-based deterrent hasn't worked. Commuters say it's simply gotten more expensive to sit in traffic.
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Artiles also says that Florida Highway Patrol officers feel unsafe trying to police the lanes.
"In response to these increased accidents, FDOT has hired more troopers to deal with bad behavior in the express lanes," he said yesterday. "Moreover, FHP troopers have found it very difficult and hazardous to enforce proper driving behavior due to the narrow shoulder caused by the creation of the express lanes."
Southern Broward County received its own I-95 express lanes in 2016, and — surprise! — commuters now say they hate them too.