Buses, emergency vehicles to get dedicated lands on expressways
By Deserae del Campo
Miami-Dade Transit buses are to get a lane of their own on the shoulder of congested expressways in a three-year pilot program.
"We're slated to begin using the lanes in December," said Manuel Palmeiro, Miami-Dade Transit public information officer.
A Metropolitan Planning Organization study of the program is in its final draft. The pilot program is planned to reduce congestion and increase bus ridership.
The Florida Department of Transportation, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and the Florida Turnpike Association must sign off before Miami-Dade Transit would allow buses to use shoulder lanes.
"There are two limits to the shoulder-lane project," said Jesus Guerra, planning organization project manager. "The first is that the shoulder lanes must be 10 feet wide and the second is that the lane is only for county buses and emergency vehicles."
The study was started in October 2004, when the planning organization examined the potential of expressways to accommodate special-use bus lanes.
No costs are budgeted until after the three years, but Miami-Dade Transit may have to pay for signs to alert bus drivers where a special lane begins and ends.
"This is a pilot project," Mr. Guerra said. "We don't have to put in the money for this until the trial run is over and we see if it is going to work."
Bus operators would be trained to drive on shoulder lanes at a designated speed. "Once the drivers get on the lane, they must not go over the 35-mile-per-hour speed limit," Mr. Guerra said.
The study evaluated special lanes on State Road 836 (Dolphin Expressway), State Road 826 (Palmetto Parkway), Interstate 75, the Turnpike Homestead Extension, State Road 874 (Don Shula Expressway), State Road 878 (Snapper Creek Plaza) and Interstate 95.
Routes chosen include Pembroke Pines Boulevard in Broward to I-75 and the Palmetto Metrorail Station; Kendall Drive on the Palmetto Expressway to Miami Lakes, which will not begin until ongoing construction on the Palmetto just north of Flagler Street is completed; and Kendall Drive on the Turnpike Extension to 836 into downtown Miami a route that is to begin once the agreement is signed.
The Kendall-Turnpike route is to use 25 buses. Five will be used for the Pembroke Pines route and six for Palmetto-Kendall Drive. Each can carry about 45 passengers.
The study doesn't recommend I-95 for the project because buses would have to merge on three lanes before they could get to the shoulder, which could cause accidents.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization is to prepare a study during the project to uncover problems with buses using the shoulder lanes.
"This is a trial-and-error project," Mr. Guerra said.
If the project does cut travel time for buses, the planning organization plans to take its findings to the state Department of Transportation to seek rules to have the lanes used as mandatory bus routes.
"It could change legislation for the whole state," Mr. Guerra said. "If we are successful, you might see this change happen in Orlando or Tampa."