The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is finished with free trips in the fast lanes. The newly opened 595 Express and the planned 75 Express and Palmetto Express projects do not and will not include free rides for anyone.
But 95 Express, the first system of its kind in Florida, was the exception. Those lanes were created by converting high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into toll lanes, so HOV toll exemptions were initially grandfathered in.
Brian Rick is on a crusade. As a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation he has chewed the ear of dozens, maybe a hundred people -- reporters, friends, anybody who refers to 95 Express as the “Lexus Lanes.”
“You don’t see a Lexus every two or three cars," Rick says. He notices the pickup trucks and work vans. "If you're delivering auto parts or you're delivering medical supplies... that's where reliability becomes essential. "
The maximum possible toll on 95 Express increased from $7 to $10.50 on March 1. Two days later at 5:30 p.m., the cost of using the northbound express lanes hit the $10.50 maximum.
Rory Santana from the Florida Department of Transportation says a truck jack-knifed and backed up the highway, so people flooded 95 Express and drove the price into the ceiling.
Since March 1 the cost of a ride in the fast lane has hit $10.50 at least 13 times. Nine of those cases occurred on the northbound express lanes, seven of which happened between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
The 95 Express Project has gotten traffic moving. Sometimes, arguably, moving too well.
FDOT numbers show that the average speed of express lane traffic during the majority of the day is between 64 and 66 MPH. That means the “average” car during those times is speeding by as much as 11 MPH.
The speed limit, which is the same for both the express lanes and the general purpose lanes, is either 55 MPH or 60 MPH depending on where you are.
Commuter Mary Hammett rides a transport module that zips down what many call “I-95.” It moves faster than most cars. Hammett relaxes in the back and pulls out her iPhone, which automatically logs in to the module’s WiFi network.
She taps open the Pandora app and gives the James Fortune station a thumbs up -- a 'like' button on the little screen. As Hammett travels to her downtown Miami office, it's all smooth sailing and silky gospel vocals.