By Steve Plunkett
Construction has begun to replace Interstate 95’s bridge over the Hillsboro Canal, South Palm Beach County’s key high-speed conduit to Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale and points south.
Work on the northbound I-95 bridge started Feb. 4, with demolition and dredging expected to last three to four months and construction another eight months. A second phase, for the median in both directions, will follow and also take a year. The third phase, for southbound I-95, will consume most of 2021.
The new bridge will not only be wider, to accommodate new express toll lanes in both directions, but also higher, giving watercraft beneath it 12 feet of clearance at mean high water instead of the current 8 feet.
The activity is part of a $102 million project to replace the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes from south of Southwest 10th Street in Deerfield Beach to south of Glades Road with two toll lanes in each direction. The overall project includes widening the interstate’s bridges over Camino Real and Palmetto Park Road.
In Delray Beach, the north sidewalk on Atlantic Avenue on both sides of the interstate was closed in mid-January for work to improve that interchange. Pedestrians are being routed to the south side of Atlantic until spring 2020; the $5.2 million project will add dedicated turn lanes to northbound I-95 and new turn lanes for westbound Atlantic traffic turning north or south onto Congress Avenue.
Andi Pacini, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, gave the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations an update on the express lanes Feb. 5.
“As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a lot of construction going on the main line, I-95, now,” Pacini said. “The idea is to build a very fast, multimodal commute from Palm Beach County all the way down to Dade. It’s not meant for getting on and getting off. It’s more like a straight shot, fast, take you all the way down approach.”
Motorists on the express lanes in Miami-Dade County pay tolls of 50 cents to $10.50, depending on distance, time of day and congestion. The goal is to keep traffic in the express lanes moving at an average speed of 45 to 50 mph, the FDOT says.
Craig Fox, president of the federation and owner of an electric vehicle, also noted that EVs travel free in express lanes.
The state DOT foresees more and more traffic on I-95 in coming years, growing from 290,000 vehicles a day now to 360,000 daily in 2030, Pacini said.
The express lanes connecting Fort Lauderdale to Miami have boosted average speeds 300 percent in the toll lanes and 200 percent in the local lanes, she said.
The express lane project will also improve drainage on I-95, lessening the chance of hydroplaning during rain, and use “class 5 anti-graffiti paint” that makes graffiti easy to wash off, Pacini said.
A second phase, estimated to cost $130 million, will take the toll lanes from south of Glades north to south of Linton Avenue. Work is planned to begin next year and end in 2024.