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Features - July 2006

Interstate 95: The Eastern Seaboard's Vital Link

A Look at the Current State of One of the Nation's Busiest Interstates

Stretching from Maine to Florida, Interstate 95 is an important economic engine for the nation, and in the Southeast, it remains a road under construction.

By Debra Wood

A bustling ribbon of asphalt, Interstate 95 connects 15 East Coast states and the District of Columbia and provides a key transportation route for commerce, travel and hurricane evacuation.

"It's the most traveled route, and it serves the most densely populated corridor," said Dan McNichol, author of The Roads That Built America. "It's a great historical route, cobbled together from Indian trails."

From Houlton, Maine, to Miami, the 1,919.7-mi.-long I-95 represents the longest north-south route in the Interstate system. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a nonprofit, educational group, reports that in 2000, 64 million people lived within 50 mi. of I-95.

With a construction cost of $8 billion, I-95 was one of the most expensive Interstate routes built. McNichol said that's due to the number of urban centers it passes through. He added that throughout the country, urban miles comprise about 12 percent of the system but consumed 50 percent of the budget.

Florida boasts the longest stretch of I-95 with 382 mi. traversing some of the state's most heavily populated counties along the Southeast Coast. It passes near six major seaports and six major commercial airports.

"I-95 and other facilities in this corridor form a primary route for moving goods and services from Florida to the rest of the country," said W. David Lee, administrator of statewide planning and policy analysis for the Florida Department of Transportation. "It also provides a primary gateway for people and freight moving between Caribbean and Central American countries and the United States."

John Baniak, executive director of the I-95 Corridor Coalition, an alliance of transportation agencies, toll authorities and related organizations based in Albany, N.Y., called the road "an important economic engine for the entire country and in particular for the north-south corridor."

Baniak's organization addresses transportation management and operations issues affecting the region. He said about the I-95 corridor, "If you took it and made it an entity unto itself, it would be the third-largest economy in the world, with a gross regional product of $4 trillion." He added that more than half a billion trips of 100 mi. or more take place on I-95 annually.

Historical Perspective

"[Building I-95] is a great story and reflects American history," said McNichol, adding that I-95 mirrors the historical north-south routes that followed rivers, Native American footpaths and the Atlantic coast. "You have Indian trails going to superhighway."

North Carolina began work on I-95 in 1956, around Lumberton, and finished the highway in 1980. The first section of I-95 opened in South Carolina in 1969 and the final segment in 1976. Georgia began construction of I-95 in June 1965 and finished its 113 mi. in 1980.

In Florida, a 1959 map indicates a section of I-95 called the Jacksonville Expressway open. A short section was built in Miami by 1961, followed by additional sections in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in 1963. The Sunshine State Parkway from West Palm Beach to Fort Pierce was designated as I-95 that same year.

Work on I-95 in Florida continued through the 1960s and 1970s. The state completed the last section from Palm Beach Gardens to Stuart in December 1987.

Increasing Traffic

Throughout the years, more people and businesses have located along the I-95 corridor, a trend expected to continue. The I-95 Corridor Coalition reports that 25 percent of the nation's projected population growth during the upcoming 20 years will take place along the corridor. Most of it will occur around cities.

"Traffic demand on I-95 is increasing yearly," said Pete Poore, South Carolina Department of Transportation spokesperson. "Our forward-looking projections indicate there is a need for additional capacity along the majority of the 199-mi. corridor in South Carolina to maintain expected levels of service."

South Carolina, however, currently has no money budgeted for widening I-95, now primarily two lanes in each direction, except for a 10-mi. stretch near Florence, which has six lanes. The SCDOT has submitted an application to the Federal Highway Administration to participate in a pilot program to add tolls to the road as a method of paying for improvements that would ease congestion.

Other states are adding lanes, but that may not be enough to keep this vital link viable.

"There are limitations as to how much capacity can be added in some sections of the corridor," Baniak said. He added that the coalition is working to maximize use of alternative modes of transportation to take the burden off the highway, as well as incident management and operational improvements to enhance traffic flow.

Construction Projects

North Carolina DOT has begun installing shoulder rumble strips along several stretches of I-95. It also plans to resurface a 17-mi. section of the road and realign an off-ramp in Harnett County.

Near Brunswick, Georgia DOT is completing the last of its I-95 sections to go to six lanes. The project will finish in 2007.

By far the greatest amount of current activity is taking place in Florida, where expansion of this vital route has accelerated in recent years. Currently, multiple major I-95 improvement projects are in planning, and contracts totaling more than $600 million are under construction.

In the northeastern part of the state, Hal Jones Contractor of Jacksonville began a $53 million project in March 2005. The Jacksonville-area project includes replacing the Trout River Bridge to add more lanes and is expected to wrap up in summer 2008. FDOT planned to open bids in April to widen I-95 north of the bridge.

Atlanta-based Archer Western Contractors is reconstructing the I-95/I-10 intersection. That $148 million project, which got started in early 2005, is scheduled for completion in 2011.

In Central Florida, Superior Construction Co. of Gary, Ind., has begun a $73 million 18.6-mi. widening project in Flagler County. Just south of that project, the North Division of Ranger Construction Industries of Winter Garden, Fla., is widening 6.8 mi. of I-95 in Volusia County. Work began in January 2004 on the $25 million, 650-day contract.

HNTB Corp. of Lake Mary began a project development and environment study in 2005 in preparation for the FDOT's six-laning of 43 mi. of I-95 in Brevard and Volusia counties. The state divided the segment into four sections for design, now under way. The two additional lanes will be placed in the existing median.

Kent Black, vice president and division operations officer for HNTB, said the straightforward construction project will be heavy in drainage and pond work. Purchase of right-of-way for retention ponds is budgeted for 2007-09, and construction on the Brevard sections in 2012.

"It's pretty important to widen I-95 to six lanes because these are important lanes along the East Coast for hurricane evacuation, emergency response and just dealing with the volume of traffic," Black said.

Farther south, the state is spending $350 million to expand I-95 from six to 10 lanes from Gateway to PGA boulevards in Palm Beach County. The projects create a high-occupancy vehicle lane and a general-purpose lane in each direction.

Hubbard Construction Co. of Orlando expects to complete the first $34 million section this summer. Hubbard also is working on a $44.9 million, 2.9-mi. section, scheduled for completion in 2007, and a $75.8 million, 4.23-mi. segment, with a bridge replacement, scheduled to wrap up in 2009.

PCL Civil Constructors of Tampa is working on a $67 million, 2.6-mi. segment expected to finish in September. Astaldi Construction Corp. of Davie is building another 1.8-mi section and is scheduled to complete the $58.9 million project in April 2007.

Archer Western received a $34 million contract to make improvements to the I-95/State Route 80 interchange, scheduled for completion in October, and a $74 million contract to build 4.58 mi. of additional lanes and widen a bridge by September 2008.

Useful sources:

Florida's Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Interstate System

I-95 Mobility 2000

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