Diverging diamond interchange: safer, faster

July 11, 2014 

Fear of adapting to change and something entirely new appears to be of lessening concern after several hundred residents and business owners viewed videos and diagrams of the diverging diamond interchange plan for University Parkway and Interstate 75.

This novel engineering design is becoming more popular around the country with some three dozen intersections. Missouri is the leading diverging diamond state with 13.

The bustling University Parkway corridor would become the first in Florida with this far more efficient way to move traffic through congested spots.

The very idea of crisscrossing lanes -- where traffic moves to the opposite side of the intersection -- can be unsettling at first blush, But the Florida Department of Transportation's big gathering in Lakewood Ranch last month went a long way toward easing apprehension.

Studies have found driver confusion virtually nonexistent thanks to road markings and signage.

With fewer conflict points with other traffic lanes, fewer signal lights and simple right and left turns from all directions, safety is improved. Wrong-way entry onto interstate ramps would be especially difficult, thus reducing if not eliminating those horrific head-on collisions that occur once in a while.

Crash data from the new Springfield, Mo., diverging-diamond interchange reveal a 60 percent drop in collisions in a five-month comparison with the previous intersection. Springfield also witnessed the elimination of daily traffic backups that sometimes stretched over a mile long.

While FDOT remains committed to fast-tracking this project -- which includes widening a 3.5-mile section of I-75 and other work -- the agency still needs to find $60 million to pay for this.

The Legislature cut funding for the project this year, but FDOT still received a $9 billion budget. FDOT Secretary Anath Prasad vowed to fund it, though.

This week the agency confirmed hopes to begin construction next summer, a welcome timeline given the fast-growing area surrounding the University Parkway corridor.

The new Mall at University Town Center, scheduled to open in mid-October, will attract heavy traffic. Major events at Nathan Benderson Park will, too. Sarasota County recently approved large-scale residential and commercial construction in nearby Lakewood Ranch South, a Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. development.

FDOT traffic counts along University Parkway west of I-75 already show 57,500 vehicles per day, and worsening congestion is assured until these mobility improvements are completed.

The University Parkway/I-75 project had been on the books too many years in the future -- and the future is approaching faster than anticipated. The need is now. FDOT continues to make encouraging statements, and the agency's recent big public meeting further advances regional anticipation.

We look forward to a final green light.

Check it out

Videos and animation of these interchanges can be found on YouTube by searching "diverging diamond."

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