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[Broward] New traffic signaling experiment

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HIGHWAY SAFETY

SLOWING TRAFFIC IN A FLASH

EXPERIMENTAL LIGHTS WARN DRIVERS TO SLOW DOWN AT ONE OF BROWARD'S MOST DANGEROUS CURVES

BY EVAN S. BENN

ebenn@herald.com

Expect to see bright flashing lights if you drive too fast on the ramp from southbound Interstate 95 to westbound State Road 84.

But the lights won't be coming from a police cruiser. They'll be coming from the pavement.

State transportation workers installed 50 strobe lights in the roadway on Nov. 19. Buried sensors at the ramp's entrance trigger the yellow and white lights to flash if a vehicle approaches at more than 45 mph.

The strobe system is an experimental traffic-slowing device that cost the Florida Department of Transportation $120,000 to install.

The lights, which when not flashing look like ordinary highway reflectors, have already shown signs of success at reducing speeding at one of Broward County's most dangerous curves, transportation department spokeswoman Barbara Kelleher said.

''As soon as we got them activated, we watched people pushing on their brakes and slowing down,'' Kelleher said.

Currently, this interchange is the only roadway in the country that uses the embedded flashing lights, said Gilbert Soles, the transportation department's project manager in charge of the light experiment.

They will stay there at least two years while transportation experts determine their effectiveness.

''The goal is to reduce the number of crashes and get people to slow down in that area,'' Kelleher said. ``If it's working like we hope it will, we'll put it in place at other locations.''

SPEEDING'S TOLL

Speeding has caused numerous accidents, including some fatalities, on the ramp, which was built in 1990.

A three-year study conducted between 1997 and '99 showed 44 crashes at that site, Soles said. He has worked to get the lights installed on the ramp since learning about them at a seminar two years ago.

Traffic-safety managers have tried different ways to get drivers to slow down at the curve with little success, Soles said.

''We did special signing, rumble strips on the ground, but none of that really seemed to work,'' he said.

Motorists pick up speed along the long, flat ramp, then have difficulty negotiating the 90-degree curve that leads to westbound State Road 84.

''When I was a trooper working the midnight shift, I can say I worked a bunch of crashes there,'' Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Roger Reyes said. ``At the patrol, we endorse anything that saves lives. If that's what this will do, then it's a good thing.''

DOUBLE PURPOSE

What might make the flashing lights more effective than previous devices, Soles said, is that they serve two purposes -- to alert drivers that they're going too fast and to illuminate the sharp curve.

''This project is unique because the lights grab your attention and get you to slow down, and they delineate the curvature,'' Soles said. ``It's double protection.''

The lights are visible to drivers both day and night, but they will only come on for speeders, Kelleher said.

''If someone's going the speed limit, the lights won't come on,'' she said. ``But if you're going too fast, you're going to know it.''

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Hmmm, I may just have to drive down there and try this thing for myself. I want to see what it looks like, lol.

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If you're feeling adventurous, you can drive a few more miles south to Miami to see the new "ramp meters" that Florida DOT District 6 (Miami-Dade County) is installing on the on-ramps to I-95... basically traffic lights with a red/green phase that help motorists get on to a congested highway during rush hour. It stops the drivers in the merging lane (the far-right lane) to allow drivers get onto the mainline.

Right now they're covered up and not operational...

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