No wrong-way detection system in place on new I-4 Express lane ramps until next year

Law enforcement stationed at Express lane direct-connect ramps after reports of wrong-way drivers

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – On Monday and Tuesday, patrol cars were stationed at the exit of the direct-connect ramp that takes drivers directly from the westbound lanes of the new Interstate 4 Express toll lanes to Central Parkway in Altamonte Springs.

FDOT said law enforcement “has been positioned along the corridor while drivers adjust to these new changes.”

A deputy said there have already been reports of wrong-way drivers inadvertently getting onto the exit ramps and entering oncoming traffic in the new Express lanes that just opened on Saturday.

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Wrong-way drivers hitting oncoming cars and causing injuries and deaths is a growing problem in Central Florida, according to FHP.

This past August, police chased down a driver going the wrong way on SR 414 through Maitland for five miles while blaring their sirens and screaming at him over the PA to stop.

When he finally pulled over, police said he was drunk and said he’d turned around on the highway.

In October, two wrong-way drivers in two days on S.R. 408 in Orange County and Interstate 95 in Volusia County killed three people in fiery head-on wrecks.

FDOT has installed wrong-way detection systems with cameras at most on-ramps on the 408, 417 and I-4 for drivers who get onto the ramps going the wrong way. The systems instantaneously notify FHP dispatchers and troopers and flash bright red lights at a driver getting on the wrong way. Usually, most drivers see it and turn around.

Troopers said on some weekend nights they’ll get as many as 20 alerts of wrong-way drivers getting onto Central Florida highways who usually right themselves without incident.

But the new I-4 Express lane direct-connect ramps — entrances and exits that launch drivers from local roads right into the new toll lanes in the center of I-4 — have only “wrong way” signs that do not light up and markings on the pavement. There are no flashing lights and no cameras snapping pictures to send to troopers.

FDOT spokesperson Jessica Ottaviano said the wrong-way vehicle detection system (WWVDS) will be installed on the direct-connect ramps next year.

“FDOT is constantly seeking to improve roadway safety for all users, especially as improvements continue to evolve,” Ottaviano said. “While this technology wasn’t around when the I-4 Ultimate project contract was being developed, once the innovative technology was discovered plans began in motion to put in place on the corridor. Design for these enhancements were done in parallel to the construction of I-4. This way installation plans could be initiated following the construction of the I-4 Ultimate as this technology requires a specialist to install. Construction of these systems along the I-4 Ultimate corridor are planned in 2023.”

In the meantime, FHP said there are FDOT cameras that monitor portions of the Express lanes so a dispatcher and 911 callers can eventually pinpoint a wrong-way driver, but that of course takes precious time.

Once a wrong-way driver is discovered, dispatchers can warn other drivers using overhead electronic billboards.

“The Department continues to closely monitor live traffic conditions, have road rangers roaming the roadways, and work with law enforcement to improve safety along the roadways,” Ottaviano said.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.