The Florida Dept. of Transportation is preparing to knit 70 miles of managed lanes, toll facilities and turnpikes in multiple jurisdictions into a regional network to improve traffic flow. In February, HNTB Corp., Kansas City, began a $1.4-million, 15-month project to develop a "regional concept of transportation operations," or RCTO, for South Florida.
In use for a decade, managed lanes open to different types of traffic at varying toll rates, depending on congestion. "But this RCTO is the first of its kind because it involves a network of multiple lanes and facilities with several stakeholders," says James Ely, HNTB's vice chairman of toll services.
The project builds on a successful pilot to convert a high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) I-95 lane into two HOV toll lanes. That was the first phase of a plan to convert multiple lanes into toll lanes and create 95 Express.
FDOT decided it made sense to "offer connectivity" throughout its whole network, not just on I-95, says Debora Rivera, director of transportation operations for FDOT's District 6. In 2008, FDOT hired Reynolds, Smith & Hills Inc., Atlanta, to study the concept. "This contract with HNTB is building on that by looking at what we proposed, what institutional challenges that presents and what our funding priorities should be," Rivera says. HNTB is looking at operational and governance issues and the roles and responsibilities of multiple owners and operators.
The I-95 Express project, scheduled for completion by early 2015, already has yielded big results. Average speed on HOV lanes is up to 60 miles per hour from 20 mph. On general lanes during peak periods, the average speed has increased to 45 mph from about 18 mph.
"So it's not just the folks paying the toll who have seen a benefit," Rivera says.
Surveys show 76% of road users say 95 Express gives a more reliable trip, and almost 50% of commuters want more managed lanes in South Florida. "Nobody really has a network yet, and everybody wants one," says Andrew Smith, HNTB's project manager.