Life in the fast lane is more popular, more expensive and more congested than ever.
The Florida Department of Transportation says entry into the 95 Express lanes ranges from $0.25 to a $7.00 maximum, meaning drivers can only be charged up to that amount depending on how many tolls they pass on one trip. The system’s "dynamic tolling" increases prices as the lanes get more congested. By driving up prices, traffic is driven back into the general-purpose lanes, easing congestion on the express lanes.
At least that's the theory.
New numbers from FDOT suggest drivers are quickly desensitizing to “Lexus lane” sticker shock. As of October, there had already been 112,119 $7.00 trips through the express lanes just this year. That’s a 125-percent increase over 2012, 2011 and 2010 combined.
“If we do not raise the toll cap we will continue to have difficulties in achieving the department’s goal of a minimum 45 mph 90 percent of the time during peak periods,” says Rory Santana, Miami's 95 Express manager. Peak traffic times are considered 6 to 9 a.m. traveling southbound and 4 to 7 p.m. traveling northbound.
Express-lane congestion hit an all-time high this past August. And FDOT only reached its minimum-speed goal 63.9 percent of the time during rush hour, meaning the express lanes weren't moving quickly enough.
December marks the fifth anniversary of the 95 Express project. And despite the recent drop in the lane's speed reliability, FDOT says drivers on both sides of the plastic dividers have benefited.
According to the 95 Express Annual Report released this April, the monthly average speed of southbound and northbound traffic during their respective peak hours has been 50 mph and 42 mph since the expressway was implemented. That’s compared to 15 mph and 20 mph before 95 Express.
And for high-occupancy vehicle lanes, average-speed increase is even more drastic. Before 95 Express, both southbound and northbound averaged 20 mph during their respective peak periods. With the express lanes, the southbound average is now up to 63 mph and northbound 56 mph.
Still, FDOT held a public hearing this week on rule changes that would increase the toll cap on 95 Express from $1.00 per mile to $1.50. The functional maximum toll would increase from $7.00 to $10.50 until additional expressway construction is finished, because the shortest possible trip is seven-miles long.
The rule changes would also increase the minimum toll on 95 Express from $0.25 to $0.50. The proposed toll hikes still have to go before a group of state lawmakers. If approved, the changes would likely go into effect in March.