Reversible I-75 lane could be middle-of-the-road solution

No traffic because vehicles only slow down to get off the highway. No rubbernecking at accidents because there aren’t any accidents. A free flowing thoroughfare with commuters using the same road to go to work and then return home.

Sound like a dream?

The Southwest Florida Expressway Authority has the potential to make it come true, approving a study for a one-lane reversible section of Interstate 75 just last week.

This scenario is already a reality in Tampa.

The Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway connects the suburbs to the downtown area. The $750 million road takes commuter traffic west in the morning and then east to Brandon and Interstate 75 in the afternoon.

The 10-mile stretch has been open for almost a year and, according to Sue Chrzan, a spokeswoman for the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, it’s been smooth sailing for drivers.

“Knock on wood but we haven’t had any traffic jams,” Chrzan said. “And we’ve only had one accident. Once again, knock on wood.”

Tampa’s three-lane traffic buster sits above the existing cross-town highway. The off-the-ground innovation is accommodating 15,000 vehicles a day, 15 percent more than original projections, Chrzan said.

Shana Richardson uses the Selmon and has found it easier to get from the outskirts of Hillsborough County to her job as an executive assistant at the Embassy Suites Convention Center in downtown Tampa. Using electronic and video tolling, eliminating stop-and-go congestion at a conventional toll both. Commuters pay $1.25 a trip to cut down their drive time and their headaches.

“It definitely speeds it up,” said Richardson, confirming she has never seen a traffic jam on the Selmon Expressway. “I’m on it for literally minutes. It’s worth it.”

The Southwest Florida Expressway Authority voted last week to spend up to $400,000 to study such a proposal. Instead of three lanes, the local proposal is for one lane.

The initial idea is to build a single lane in the median. Traffic would flow south in the morning, when commuters typically travel south to jobs, then north in the afternoon when they’re driving home.

“The board was very excited about it,” said Amy Davies, project manager for authority consultant Wilbur Smith Associates, the company conducting the study.

There are big questions to answer about the new proposal, Davies said.

“Will it require tolling lanes 5 and 6? We don’t know yet,” she said.

The authority board had requested new options because the economic downturn shrank recent traffic counts. That might impact the feasibility of the contemplated 10-lane project.

“You have to remember Florida Turnpike Enterprise is looking at eight lanes and doing the feasibility for 10,” said Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall, who represents the county on the authority. “Assume that it’s not feasible and what do we do? We’re covering all our bases.”

Davies said the seven-lane proposal is in its infancy. Details, such as whether tolling lanes 5 and 6 would be necessary to pay for the new lane, haven’t been answered, nor have questions about which way traffic should flow at what times.

Those questions are key, considering Collier County commissioners have steadfastly refused to support any expansion project that puts tolls on the fifth and sixth lanes.

Another factor at work is the corridor that currently runs down the middle of the interstate. County and state officials have guarded the area for a possible high-speed rail line or other form of mass transit.

“If we use it for lane 7, we might have to relocate the multi-modal corridor,” Davies said. “If we build it in the middle, with access from 75, it might some day become a multi-modal, like a bus lane.”

The median may be the only way to go, Chrzan said. Like the traffic now, she says it goes with the flow of financial feasibility.

“With the price of property and difficulty of obtaining right-of-ways, the only place to go is the median,” Chrzan said.

Such a suggestion may just be the middle of the road solution Southwest Florida’s politicians and commuters can agree on.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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