BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - Motorists were able to drive Interstate 595's new reversible lanes going westbound for the very first time Wednesday afternoon.
The trio of center lanes stretch nearly 10 miles between Interstate 95 and the junction of Interstate 75 and the Sawgrass Expressway.
The aim is to reduce traffic by giving drivers from Broward County's western suburbs a rush-hour congestion-free weekday commute heading eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon.
A third of the total $1.2 billion 595 improvement budget was spent on the reversible I-595 Express lanes. They are a first for South Florida. Tampa has reversible lanes on a bridge along the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
There are five emergency access gates so first responders can quickly enter the center lanes.
There are a series of gates at the entry points designed to prevent cars from going the wrong way. Several have red and white markings with a large, orange "Do Not Enter" sign suspended from the arm before a final steel arm.
Project manager Paul Lampley said even if a driver were to ignore the digital screens preceding the gates and crashed through several of them that final steel arm would prevent the driver from getting on the reversible lanes going in the wrong direction.
Local 10 had heard that the computer system and software controlling those safety gates had been crashing. When Local 10 asked Lampley about it, he said as of Tuesday a full diagnostic check of the software and drills with various area fire departments had been performed and all was working smoothly.
Should the computer-system fail, he said, the gates would remain locked down in whatever position they were in last. It could be a frustrating experience for drivers should they be unable to correct it by the time the traffic direction switch was to take place, but not dangerous because the arms would still prevent any head-on collisions.
Once up and running, it is expected 28,000 cars will use the reversible lanes daily, freeing up congestion on the free lanes.
Driving on the new reversible express lanes will be free for the first two weeks. After that, expect to pay between 50 cents and $2.
Drivers will need a SunPass because no cash will be accepted. Lampley said anyone who uses the lanes without a SunPass will receive a violation.
Lampley confirmed that the contractor earned a $10 million bonus for completing the lanes on schedule.
The reversible lanes will typically be open on weekdays to eastbound traffic between 4 a.m. and 1 p.m. and for westbound drivers between 2 p.m. and 2 a.m. They will normally be closed between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. for routine maintenance.
On weekends, the Express lanes will normally be open in the eastbound direction only.
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