On June 3, board members of the Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco MPOs met as the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area (TMA) Leadership Group with special guest speaker Greg Stuart, Executive Director of the Broward MPO in Fort Lauderdale.
Stuart described the evolution of express toll lanes in Southeast Florida – which also has three large counties whose MPOs work together – from his perspective. “I like to look at Broward as the middle child, between Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. Together, our TMA has about 6 million people, and we’re moving back and forth across the whole region. The busiest Tri Rail station is actually in Boca Raton.”
Express toll lanes were first created on I-95, north from Downtown Miami. Then reversible lanes were built in Broward County’s east-west I-595, and the I-95 express lanes were extended north to connect to them. The Sawgrass Expressway was the next piece of the puzzle.
There was some public concern about adding tolls, Stuart said – i.e., “You’re about to put tolled lanes on a highway we already paid for.” On the other hand, the toll revenue allowed the I-595 express lanes to be built 15 years earlier than would have otherwise been possible, and capacity has increased in the main (non-tolled) lanes. Stuart also observed, “Plumbers, electricians, other local business people are using the express lanes to get to their appointments on time. Our business community says these are wonderful.”
What about public transit? According to Stuart, the several bus routes in the express lanes are packed. The FDOT traffic management center helps re-route the buses when incidents occur, and the express lane operation helps pay for the bus capital and service costs. Early on, there were fears that the I-95 express bus routes would take passengers away from the Tri Rail commuter rail service. What has actually happened is that offering more options has attracted greater ridership to the transit system as a whole. Together, the commuter rail, buses, Miami MetroMover and other transit services in the region carried more than 12 million rides in March 2016.
It will take six to eight months after opening an express lane for the public really to understand how to use it, Stuart noted-so in South Florida, the lanes were free for the first few months, until people got used to the location of the exits and the toll-rate message boards. There have also been some recent improvements for safety, such as placing cones closer together, and adding access for emergency vehicles.
“I was very happy to use the I-95 managed lane at Christmas,” responded Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel. Clearwater Councilwoman Doreen Caudell commented that express lanes would be a boon to her business’ fleet of trucks, and asked how to spread the word about the benefits of public-private partnerships for transportation. Stuart’s suggestion? The TMA should host a multi-county seminar. “It’s a regional lift to make this happen.”
More about the Tampa Bay TMA Leadership Group is posted under Board & Committees on our webpage.