I-95: South Florida’s most dangerous commute

By: Ronnie Figueroa/Contributing Writer

Although University students taking Interstate 95 to and from campus face a less dangerous commute to school today than they did in years past, accident and fatality rates on the highway still soar above the national average.

During the past five years, more than 20,000 accidents and 163 fatalities occurred on Miami-Dade and Broward counties’ 42-mile stretch of I-95, according to data compiled by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Last year, however, marked a low in both categories for the past 10 years, with most officials attributing the drop to road and traffic flow improvements.

The improvements, however, aren’t enough to dethrone South Florida’s 88-mile stretch, which includes Palm Beach County, from the top spot in the United States in terms of fatalities per mile over the past five years with 3.13. The next closest is New Jersey’s Interstate 76 with 1.64 fatalities per mile.

The National Highway Safety Administration ranked it the most dangerous highway from 2004 through 2008. During that span, Miami-Dade County alone averaged more than 100 injuries per mile.

With the majority of FIU’s 42,000 students living off its two campuses, driving to class can pose a greater challenge than school itself.

Fort Lauderdale native, Patterson Murphree, treks I-95 every weekday to get to Biscayne Bay Campus.

“There’s never a dull moment on I-95,” he says. “You’re either getting cut off or flipped off. I think I see an accident every day.”

Murphree considers himself lucky that he’s only been involved in one fender-bender on his commute to school.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Alex Annunziato sees the danger of I-95’s Miami-Dade/Broward stretch daily.  He feels the causes of the crashes are two-fold.

“I think it’s the volume coupled with the level of distraction that’s present in the driving environment these days,” he said. “That really is a recipe for what we’ve been seeing here.”

Despite modest improvements, Annunziato believes there’s still more work to be done.

“We’ve seen that per mile driven, the actual number of injuries and fatalities along I-95 has actually declined.” Annunziato said. “It’s still relatively high and certainly it’s a focus of ours to try to alleviate that.”

Debrah Doty of the Miami-Beach Police Department says too many people are trying to multitask on the roads and says smart phones are a big problem.

But Tancredo Hernandez, sociology major, feels the reason for the dangers of I-95 extend beyond mere distractions.

“What makes driving down I-95 so rough is the weather,” he said. “Some days I can barely see what’s in front of me. Those are the days I see the most accidents.”

SunPass lanes separating long-distance drivers from short-distance commuters have been put in place in Miami-Dade and parts of Broward. Drivers feel the lanes create more traffic for those traveling short distances and are often more dangerous. They point to the fact that many of the poles used to divide the lanes have been knocked down and left as debris.

FDoT spokesperson Barbara Kelleher countered that these lanes actually alleviate another problem common to I-95 — too many drivers.

While there might be too many drivers, Sindy Vazques, a biology major who takes I-95 for school and work, says there’s too much construction.

“Maintenance is the problem — that and terrible driving — but mainly maintenance,” Vazques said. “There are cracks everywhere and potholes everywhere. How do you have potholes on a road where people are going 60?”

She says repairing the roads creates a Catch-22.

“Either you have poor roads or a construction crew taking up too much space.” Vazques said. “Either way, we’re screwed.”

Ronnie Figueroa, a December 2010 journalism graduate, produced this story in the JOU 3303 Advanced News Writing course taught by Dr. Fred Blevens.

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