I-95 Express Lanes Are Poorly Maintained Death Traps, Alleges Motorcyclist Who Lost Leg

Artist Cynthia Fleischmann lost half of her right leg in a brutal October 2015 motorcycle accident. And she says the Florida Department of Transportation's shoddily maintained I-95 Express lanes — where broken and missing poles let drivers illegally jump into the fast-moving lanes — are to blame.

Fleischmann, who is 30, was riding a Harley-Davidson northbound on I-95 October 14, 2015, alongside her friend Catherine Milagros Perez Garcia, when a 1994 Toyota Corolla plowed through a gap in the orange pylons. The car slammed into both motorcyclists just south of NW 103rd Street, severely injuring them.

Each woman has filed a negligence lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), DBI Services (which maintains the lanes), and the driver.

Fleishmann's injuries appeared to be far worse than her friend's — she was rushed via ambulance to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where doctors were forced to amputate her right leg above the knee. She says she also had to undergo surgery on her right hipbone. Both bikes, 2012 and 2014 models, were destroyed.

“The defendants have a duty to properly maintain our roadways for the safety of drivers," the pair's attorney, Lewis S. Eidson, said in a prepared statement yesterday. "The express lanes have created an extremely dangerous and unnecessary condition for drivers, which is exasperated when the delineator poles are not properly maintained."

Neither FDOT nor DBI Services immediately responded to New Times' request for comment on the lawsuit.

Fleischmann and Garcia are far from the first motorists to lodge complaints about the express-lane poles. The lanes have been the subject of intense debate and scorn since the state installed them in 2009. They lack proper shoulders and are cut off from the rest of the highway only by plastic barriers, which can be easily driven over. The lanes require a mounted SunPass transponder, and the cost varies — during rush hour, tolls can top $10.

But traffic analysts (and, frankly, anyone who's ever driven on I-95) say the barriers don't alleviate traffic and just make it more expensive to sit in South Florida gridlock.

Safety experts also say that the fees and porous barriers encourage "lane diving" (illegally entering lanes by driving through the pylons) and that lane-diving can often lead to major accidents because unsuspecting commuters typically have no idea if a car is about to burst through the poles.

Numerous proposals, from separating the express lanes using concrete medians to straight-up ridding Florida of the lanes altogether, have been pitched in response. Just one month ago, state Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican otherwise best known for pitching a failed North Carolina-style transgender "bathroom bill" in Florida, filed a bill that would, if enacted, rid the state of express lanes once and for all.

"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 last month. "Highway express lanes are unsafe, inefficient, and add an unnecessary burden for all users, as the numbers clearly show."
Safety issues aside, the pylons are downright expensive: FDOT says it spends more than $1 million each year replacing poles because drivers run over them so often. Huge gaps often exist in the pylons, such as the one that the motorcyclists say gave the Toyota room to zoom into their lane.

Fleschmann's suit says the state fails to properly warn drivers that the lanes could be hazardous and fails to properly monitor DBI, the company maintaining the poles, to ensure they're standing.

"Defendants DBI and FDOT failed to properly maintain, repair, and replace the delineator poles which separated the general-purpose lanes from the express lanes, creating large gaps which invited drivers to 'lane dive' or change into the express lanes through the large gaps, injuring users of the express lanes, including Plaintiff, Cynthia Fleischmann," her suit says. "The gaps in the delineator poles along I-95 in the area of the subject incident were there for a sufficient length of time that Defendant DBI and FDOT knew or should have known of the hazardous condition."

Here's Fleischmann's complaint: