Imagine your morning commute on Interstate 75 without giant trucks whizzing by you in the left lane, rattling your windows and drowning out the radio.
It could happen.
The Hillsborough County Commission on Tuesday agreed to join Sarasota County in asking the Florida Department of Transportation to ban large trucks from using the left lane of I-75 from the interchange with State Road 681 in Sarasota County to Fowler Avenue in Hillsborough County.
To act, the DOT needs requests from Hillsborough, Sarasota and Manatee counties. The Manatee County Commission is scheduled to consider the issue this month.
Research shows that keeping trucks out of the left lane of six-lane highways reduces accidents, said Mark Wilson, deputy traffic operations engineer with the DOT.
That's based on the high number of accidents on interstate highways caused by improper lane changes.
"When you put trucks in the right two lanes, and leave the left for nontrucks, the number of lane changes are reduced," Wilson said.
In Florida, trucks are banned on only two stretches of interstate. A restriction on 70 miles of Interstate 95 through Palm Beach and Broward counties was enacted in 1990. About 140 miles of I-75 from Wildwood to the Georgia line have had the restriction since 1998.
The limitation can be imposed only on roads with six lanes or more. More than 1,400 miles of interstate crisscross Florida. Fewer than half of those have six lanes, Wilson said.
The DOT is currently analyzing a three-year study by Florida A&M University of the lane restrictions on I-75.
Data show that before banning trucks from the left lane, 48 percent of the accidents on that stretch were caused by improper lane changes.
"Our theory is that we should have reduced accidents," Wilson said. The results of the study may be used to justify expansion of lane restrictions statewide, Wilson said.
"It's an important subject to us and we're trying to get a handle on what we should be doing with truck lane issue," Wilson said.
A Texas Transportation Institute study published in 2002 found that truck lane restrictions on Interstate 10 reduced accidents in the Houston area by 68 percent during a 36-week period.
The trucking industry, Wilson said, prefers the restrictions to apply only during the day, which is the case on I-95.
"But they follow it when it's there," he said. "There have been very, very few violations."
"It's being done in a lot of places primarily for safety reasons," said Charles Brantley, president of the Florida Trucking Association in Tallahassee. "If DOT determines that there is a safety problem and . . . if they restrict movement of trucks to the two right lanes, then we certainly will observe that."
_ Janet Zink can be reached at 661-2441 or jzinksptimes.com.