ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – In a statement to News 6 Tuesday afternoon, FDOT spokesperson Jessica Ottaviano said the state transportation agency is now “aggressively exploring avenues” to accelerate the installation of a wrong-way vehicle detection system on all direct-connect ramps that feed traffic to and from I-4 Express lanes to and from local roads.
Monday’s wrong-way head-on crash in the new toll lanes of I-4 that put two people in the hospital came just 10 days after the lanes opened. Troopers are investigating if the driver used a direct-connect ramp to get on the wrong way or if the driver turned around on the highway. FHP said the driver did not appear to be impaired.
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“The Department is currently working with law enforcement partners and the I-4 Ultimate project team to fully understand all the circumstances that led to a wrong-way driving crash during the early morning hours of Monday, March 7 in westbound I-4 Express near Fairbanks Avenue,” Ottaviano said. “The information from the investigation is crucial in evaluating what additional countermeasures can be deployed and establishing complimentary motorist education.”
FDOT has said it plans to install the wrong-way detection system but needs a specialist to do it and that won’t happen until 2023.
Wrong-way detection systems work; troopers said they are “highly effective” on the 408, 417 and some I-4 on-ramps, most of the time turning around drivers who get on going the wrong way, and if not, alerting troopers and dispatchers within seconds so they can warn other drivers and quickly catch up to the wrong-way driver.
But on the new I-4 Express lanes of the $2.3 billion taxpayer-funded I-4 Ultimate project, there is currently no-wrong way detection system, not even on the direct-connect ramps that feed drivers directly into and out of the new toll lanes to and from local roads.
Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini, a Republican from Lake County, calls it an “emergency” that needs to get fixed as soon as possible.
“I’m having my staff send a letter to FDOT today trying to do a request for information and hopefully demand that this technology — this wrong-way vehicle detection marker — gets put in earlier than next year because if the rate at which accidents are happening continues, that’s going to be really bad for us,” Sabatini said.
Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, calls the lack of a wrong-way detection system “incredibly scary” and said she has also contacted FDOT for a response.
“A year is way too long to wait,” Eskamani said.
A spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis said his office “will look into the wrong-way incidents and anything that can be done to improve road safety.”
Ottaviano said there are other safety measures in place on the ramps to prevent wrong-way drivers from entering the Express lanes through direct-connect exit ramps.
“These include wrong-way signs posted on the exit ramps to Grand National Drive, South Street, Ivanhoe Boulevard, and Central Parkway,” Ottaviano said. “Additionally, there are directional arrows painted on the ramp’s roadway surface, stop bars painted on the roadway, lane markings on surface streets, and reflective pavement markings to guide drivers into the proper lanes. Reflective pavement markers appear as white when traveling in the proper direction but show red when traveling in the opposite direction.”
“But, the Department will not stop there. FDOT has been aggressively exploring avenues to accelerate existing plans to add Wrong-Way Vehicle Detection Systems (WWVDS) to I-4 Express direct connect ramps. The WWVDS is an enhancement to existing countermeasures and includes flashing lights to notify the driver they are traveling in the wrong direction. If, after seeing the flashing lights, the motorist continues in the wrong way, radar detection sends alerts to FDOT’s District Five Regional Transportation Management Center (RTMC) to alert operators and dispatch law enforcement. After the alert is received, the RTMC also broadcasts a wrong-way driver alert on electronic messaging boards along I-4 Express to warn other motorists. While additional engineering can help reduce the chances of wrong-way driving incidents, it does not replace education and driver awareness as important and necessary components to further increase safety on the corridor.”
“I-4 express began operation on February 26, 2022. Within just the first five days of operations, the express lanes experienced more than 1 million interactions/uses. Although still unfortunate, the incident that occurred early Monday morning was the first wrong-way driving incident to occur in the express lanes.”
“FDOT reminds drivers to pay attention to overhead signage and limit distractions when they are behind the wheel. Motorists can learn more about I-4 Express at i4express.com.”