Warning signs for wrong-way drivers installed on some local interstate ramps, but not all
The Florida Department of Transportation has spent $1.2 million installing flashing beacons, signs and pavement markings on local interstate ramps this past year in hopes of preventing wrong-way driving crashes.
Electronic warning signs are now active on 16 Tampa Interstate ramps . But the new technology was not in place at the Howard Avenue ramp where a driver entered the highway in the wrong direction last Friday and later collided with another car, killing both drivers.
The wrong-way flashing beacons — which cost $50,000 per pair — trigger and flash when a driver enters the interstate in the wrong direction. The pilot program was started after a devastating string of wrong-way crashes in 2014 killed 16 people and drew national headlines.
The system includes surveillance cameras, solar panels and rapid-flashing red lights to alert drivers they are headed in the wrong direction. When a wrong-way driver is detected, an immediate alert is sent to FDOT and the Florida Highway Patrol. Interstate messaging signs are changed to alert motorists of a wrong-way driver.
“That whole rash of 2014 crashes kind of got the ball going,” said FDOT spokesman David Botello. “We’re leading the way nationally with this technology and trying to get ahead of this thing.
But federal funding regulations require that FDOT study the results of the first set of beacons before installing others. Which means it will be a while before officials decide whether to spend more money upgrading other ramps throughout the area.
The first sets of beacons were installed at the ramps near the University of South Florida, where several of 2014’s wrong-way crashes occurred — including the one that killed four USF students.
The goal, Botello said, is to eventually have these beacons installed at every interstate ramp in the area.
“It’s a high priority here in our district,” Botello said. “Hopefully the technology will help get these crashes down.”