The new southbound exit ramp out of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport funnels vehicles to an intersection so congested it is rated near the bottom for traffic flow, according to a study commissioned by state transportation officials.
The intersection is at U.S. Highway 1 and Griffin Road.
The conclusion is from an exit ramp assessment prepared for the Florida Department of Transportation by Kimley-Horn Associates at a cost of almost $87,000. Kimley-Horn is a national firm headquartered in North Carolina with offices in South Florida.
Shortly after the assessment was released, the Broward County Aviation Department emphasized in a September slide presentation to county commissioners that Kimley-Horn supported its position that the new exit ramp was the best of four options considered by the county.
What the aviation department didn’t include in its presentation was Kimley-Horn’s finding that the intersection at U.S. 1 and Griffin Road would operate at a poor “level of service” on opening day, with projected growth later causing it to get permanently worse.
The Highway Capacity Manual, published by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, grades highway levels of service from A to F, said Adam Kerr, the report’s co-author.
A service level of “E” is next to the bottom of the scale. It is characterized by unstable, irregular and slow traffic flow with no usable gaps to maneuver in traffic. Traffic incidents create serious delays and leave drivers with a poor level of comfort.
An “F” service level means motorists will move in lockstep, with frequent slowing, unpredictable travel time and constant traffic jams.
THE WAY SOUTH
Traffic leaving the airport today enters a three-lane bridge that veers left and north toward Interstate 595 and to northbound U.S. 1. To go south, a vehicle must make a hard right onto a one-lane exit ramp as the bridge curves left.
The exit ramp, which opened last month, funnels traffic southbound onto an improved NE 7 Ave, with a single lane that eventually curves westbound onto Northeast 10th Street to U.S. 1 where a traffic light controls when vehicles can turn south or cross to Griffin Road.
Broward County Mayor Tim Ryan will hold public meeting about the airport expansion project at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. The meeting will address the southbound ramp and other concerns of residents.
Ryan has experienced airport area slow downs first hand, especially during rush hours, when he takes U.S. 1 south to go home. He said he has to wait through several traffic light cycles, or between six to eight minutes, before he can make it through the congested intersection.
FDOT did not design or build the exit ramp. County contractors built it as part of the Broward Aviation Department’s ongoing $800-million airport expansion program.
FDOT District Director James Wolfe said in a July 2014 email to then state Rep. Joseph Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, that his department “did not review and approve the design…since the ramp is located outside the department’s right-of-way.”
State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, asked FDOT to conduct an independent study into whether the ramp was the safest and best option. Sobel made the request amid public protests last year over the elimination of the old more direct southbound ramp that was torn down to make way for the extended runway.
She could not be reached for comment.
Former Rep. Gibbons, a critic of the new southbound exit ramp, told FloridaBulldog.org, “How do you start out with a brand new road which is a failure from the start…There could be a more direct route.”
SUGGESTIONS TO IMPROVE
The Kimley-Horn report made several suggestions to improve traffic flow for vehicles heading south. They include increasing the number of exit ramp lanes to two, reducing the exit ramp’s “departure angle” from the bridge, diverting ramp traffic away from NE 7 Ave. to its own roadway, increasing the number of southbound turn lanes at the U.S. 1-Griffin Road intersection from two to three, and building a flyover at or near Griffin Road to allow airport traffic to bypass the intersection.
The report notes that even if a third left turn lane is added, “the overall intersection will still operate” at a level of service of “F.”
Aviation department spokesman Greg Meyer, noting that level of service ratings applies to the intersection and not the ramp, took issue with the report’s suggestion that adding another lane to the exit ramp lane would improve traffic flow. “We don’t have a need for two lanes at this time,” he added.
A 2011 aviation department study recommended the ramp be widened to two lanes when the number of passengers boarding aircraft at the airport reaches 17.3 million. The Federal Aviation Administration said the number of passengers boarding aircraft in 2014 was 12.3 million and won’t reach 17 million until 2029 or 2030.
Meyer pointed out the aviation department has installed 32 concrete light poles and is now upgrading signage along the southbound exit route. He said the opening of the southbound ramp was accelerated at the urging of local residents and towns.
Between the day the old ramp was torn down and the new ramp was opened, southbound drivers had to travel north on U.S. 1, make a U-turn and then head south on the highway and through the Griffin Road intersection. The U-turn option still exists.
Meyer said the aviation department has entered into an agreement with FDOT to study ways to improve the intersection. The two governmental entities are splitting the $250,000 cost of the study.
Mayor Ryan said many of the report’s suggestions to improve the intersection’s traffic flow would face obstacles to implement. “If there is anything I could criticize, (not having two lanes on the ramp) would be the most obvious,” he said, adding that the new southbound ramp “doesn’t look like the best way to go in the long term.”