The End of the Road
8:11 am
Mon August 18, 2014

What’s With That Insanely Bumpy Section Of I-95?

A "rehabilitation" project is making for a rocky ride on southbound I-95.
A "rehabilitation" project is making for a rocky ride on southbound I-95.
Credit Florida Department of Transportation

Miami's Southbound Interstate 95 from 153rd Street to 125th Street looks -- and feels -- like it was engineered by Pablo Picasso.

Just south of the Golden Glades Interchange, the pavement turns into a patchwork of concrete slabs. Hundreds of them, jutting up as high as one-eighth of an inch above the expressway’s surface.

“It felt like we were literally traveling over numerous speed bumps,” public safety advocate Mike Arias wrote in an email to the Florida Department of Transportation. “Like if we were riding over a roller coaster and almost ready to puke.”

Actually, with a $5.4 million price tag, rehabilitating this section of I-95 will cost about as much as building a new roller coaster. (The Dania Beach Hurricane reportedly cost $4.5 million in 2000.)

The vast majority of South Florida's 87 miles of I-95 is made of asphalt. Other than bridges, the 13-mile stretch from about 173rd street to US1 is the only concrete section of I-95 from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade County. Last September, FDOT contractors began the process of replacing problematic chunks of southbound lanes between the Biscayne Canal Bridge and NW 125th Street.

“Back in the '50s, when they built the road, I don’t know why they decided to build this section of concrete pavement,” says Felipe Gonzalez, the FDOT project administrator overseeing the rehabilitation.

A look at how much the I-95 concrete slabs rise off the road in comparison to reflectors, speed bumps and speed humps.
A look at how much the I-95 concrete slabs rise off the road in comparison to reflectors, speed bumps and speed humps.
Credit Kenny Malone / WLRN

Unlike asphalt resurfacing, concrete rehabilitation is done chunk by chunk. Workers pull up 9-inch-thick slabs of road and then refill the gaping holes with fresh concrete, pouring slightly more than necessary. A contractor then grinds the slabs down to level out the highway surface and create the right surface texture.

Around 700 chunks of I-95 have been torn up and re-poured so far, with around 300 to 500 still to go. Contractors don't normally start grinding slabs until all the replacements are finished, leaving the road uneven.

But Gonzalez says the pre-ground slabs never stick up any higher than one-eighth of an inch. By comparison, the reflectors in between lanes stick up five times higher off the road.

“So it’s safe to drive,” says Gonzalez, “but we are telling the drivers to be extra careful, not to be changing lanes constantly because the road is not as before. But it’s safe to drive on.”

Still, people are rattled by the bumpy road.

In June, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan essentially called a time-out to file her grievance during a Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting.

“Before you approve the minutes, Madam Chair, I just wanted to put a comment on the record about I-95,” Jordan said. “I think with the new repairs, it’s almost like I’d rather see the potholes.”

FDOT heard enough complaints that it asked the contractor to start diamond-grinding several months sooner than planned. Felipe Gonzalez says portions of the right lane have already been leveled. The grinding of the concrete slabs is expected to start in earnest in September.

Below, hear WLRN's VP of news Tom Hudson griping about I-95's uneven stretch on a recent afternoon drive:

And see what the rehabilitation looks like from a dashboard-mounted camera.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story reported that only two miles of I-95 in South Florida were constructed from concrete. It's actually about 13 miles, according to updated figures provided by the Florida Department of Transportation. The original story referred to September 2014 as the target for project completion. September 2014 is the target month for FDOT's contractor to begin grinding down the bumps in the road. The project completion -- which includes sealing joints and putting road markings down -- is estimated for October. The audio piece has been updated with the correct information too.