Second of a three-day series
More doesn’t always translate into less when trying to find a correlation between the number of lanes on an interstate highway and traffic fatalities.
Once the expansion of Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County was completed, Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Tim Frith said the number of crashes decreased. However, some of the crashes were more severe and involved higher speeds, Frith said.
Yet for the past two years, Frith said traffic fatalities have decreased in Palm Beach.
The access of more lanes relieved the gridlock during rush hours, which helped decrease accidents, Frith said.
During Jay Anderson’s first trip on Interstate 75’s recently completed 31-mile widening to six lanes between Lee and Collier counties, he said he noticed fewer motorists inclined to follow closely behind each other.
“To me, it just seemed like a much safer ride,” said Anderson, the executive director of Stay Alive... Just Drive and vice chairman of Lee County’s Community Traffic Safety Team.
But not everyone agrees.
“No matter where they add lanes, it’s still going to increase congestion and still have a safety issue,” said Fazil T. Najafi, a professor with the University of Florida’s Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering.
Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Chris Miller said it was too early to tell if more people were speeding or if there were more crashes since I-75’s expansion. However, Miller said the additional lanes have eased traffic congestion which makes the roadway safer.
While I-75 in Collier and Lee counties does not rank in the top 20 most dangerous roads in the United States based upon a recent Scripps Howard News Service study, officials still urged motorists to drive safe.
“Drivers need to take personal responsibility ... that would reduce the amount of crashes,” Miller said.
Of the top 20 most dangerous roads in the nation, they all have more than two lanes. Among the top, was I-95 in Broward and Palm Beach counties — roads which are notorious for speeding and racing.
Instead of adding new lanes, Najafi said the state should think of a better approach for Florida’s commuters.
“We need a balanced transportation system in Florida,” Najafi said, adding that a better bus system was needed and would also help conserve the environment.
Najafi has been advocating for a high-speed rail system in Florida — possibly connecting Tampa, Orlando and Miami — similar to Japanese high speed trains.
From what Anderson observed on the interstate — which now has an electronic messaging system to alert drivers to hazardous conditions and accidents — most people were staying about 5 mph to 7 mph above the speed limit, which is typical, he said.
“I was amazed with the way traffic flowed,” he said.
Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Debbie Tower said officials know that some drivers exceeded the speed limit in the past and still do currently.
Tower echoed Miller sentiments about the traffic capacity on I-75 enhancing safety on the road.
Tower added that the new lanes allows traffic to move with fewer vehicles following each other too closely or tailgating.
“I think the factor will always be in a driver’s behavior,” she said.
When additional lanes are added for capacity reasons and to decrease delays, West Guckert said it shouldn’t increase safety issues on the interstate. Guckert is the president and chief executive officer of the Traffic Group Inc., a Baltimore-area based traffic engineering and transportation planning consulting company with an international clientele.
“What you find is that most accidents that occur are really driver error, not design error,” Guckert said. He added that few interstate systems could be considered unsafe or have more accidents after they have added new lanes.
In Broward County, more than 300,000 vehicles travel daily on I-95, which has 10 to 12 lanes, including merging lanes and high occupancy or carpooling lanes.
When asked about crashes, speeding and drag racing, FDOT spokeswoman Barbara Kelleher referred the Daily News to FHP.
“Bad drivers are certainly a concern,” Kelleher said.
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Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/