For literally millions of drivers in the state of Florida, Interstate 4 is the most dangerous road they travel. How did such an important highway – sometimes called the backbone of Florida’s highway system – become so dangerous? The Interstate 4 story begins back with Florida’s booming postwar population expansion in the 1950’s, when dozens of new industries and thousands of new families arrived in Florida, lured by white sand beaches, warm winter temperatures, and the spread of air conditioning. As the 1950s ended, the Census Bureau proclaimed Orlando’s growth “the nation’s greatest.”
A traffic study conducted in 1954 showed that drivers were making 195,000 trips per day in and out of the Orlando-Winter Park area. Local officials knew a that major upgrade was going to be needed – fast. They didn’t have to wait long. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act, authorizing $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of the Interstate Highway System over a 10-year period. At the time, it was the largest public works project in U.S. history. The Interstate 4 project took seven years to “complete,” and it cost over $42 million. Since 1965, routine reconstruction and lane-widening projects have continued.
Walt Disney World opened in 1971. More than 20 million visited in its first two years. Sea World opened in 1973. Orlando was growing rapidly, and it was swiftly becoming one of the world’s top tourist destinations as well. In the 1970s and 1980s, Florida became the nation’s fourth most populous state – and in the 1990s, more than 900 people a day relocated here. By linking Orlando with Tampa and Daytona Beach, I-4 is the state’s most important east-west thoroughfare.
WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS REGARDING ACCIDENTS ON I-4?
Back in 2010, the Daily Beast reported that two of the three most dangerous stretches of highway in the nation – I-4 and a section of I-95 – are both in Florida. From 2004 through 2008, Interstate 4 was the site of 209 fatal traffic accidents, which equaled one fatality for every 1.58 miles. In the years since 2008, safety on Interstate 4 has not much improved. In fact, the stretch of I-4 that covers Seminole County is more fatal than any other stretch of highway in the state. Hillsborough County has the second deadliest stretch of I-4, and Volusia County has the third. If you’re injured in a crash on I-4, you’ll need to speak about your rights with an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney.
In response to the many catastrophic accidents that take place on Interstate 4, the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project was launched in 2015. The project will rebuild 21 miles of I-4 from Orange County to Seminole County, add two new express lanes in each direction, replace more than 140 bridges, reconfigure 15 major interchanges, reconstruct the entire existing roadway, and set the posted speed to 55 mph. Completion is expected in 2021. During the project, lane closures will be mostly at night, beginning as early as 8:30 p.m. and continuing as late as 7 a.m. Some work may require ramp closures, but consecutive ramps will not be closed simultaneously. Attorney Robert Horst says, “I-4 is statistically one of the most dangerous roads in Florida. Between the high traffic volume, the constant road construction, and the high number of tractor-trailers and other commercial vehicles on the road, it can be intimidating and dangerous. I stay away from I-4 whenever possible for these reasons.”
In some spots during the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project, low-slung concrete dividing walls will be used to separate construction from traffic. Because those walls place the auxiliary lanes off limits, if a car breaks down – or if there’s an accident – there’s no convenient place to move the stalled or crashed vehicles. Thus, even a minor accident on I-4 right now may cause major traffic backups and even more accidents. And even when traffic is flowing, those concrete walls slow the traffic and add to the congestion on I-4.
WHAT’S THE MAIN REASON FOR ACCIDENTS ON I-4?
While construction currently contributes to the driving risks on Interstate 4, the leading reason for so many of the accidents on I-4 is congestion. There have always been simply too many vehicles traveling I-4, whether or not construction is happening. In 2008, for example, a 70-car pileup near Polk City was caused by thick fog combined with smoke from an environmental burn conducted by the Florida Wildlife Commission. Four people were killed in the pileup, and 38 were injured.
In highway construction zones, speed limits may be lowered, lanes may be closed, and people may be working near the road. Drivers exceeding the speed limit when workers are present will face twice the standard speeding fine. Here are some safety recommendations to keep in mind as you drive on I-4 or as you drive on any highway that’s under construction:
- Stay Alert: Pay attention to both the road and to your surroundings in a construction zone.
- No Tailgating: Unexpected stops happen frequently in construction zones. Allow at least a full car length for every ten miles per hour of speed, and a little more just to be safe.
- Reduce Distractions: If you listen to music as you drive, program the music so that you aren’t constantly changing it as you drive. Avoid using a cell phone, eating, grooming – or anything except paying attention to the road. And of course, don’t drink – or use intoxicating drugs – and drive.
- Be Prepared: Construction zones are active and constantly changing situations. Be ready for workers and construction equipment to start moving unexpectedly. “Construction crews face difficult conditions every day while they work to improve our highways and make them safer,” says Col. David Brierton, the former director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “And those conditions are made even more difficult when you factor in the daily flow of traffic they must work around.”
- No Speeding: Obey the posted speed limits in and around construction zones. Speeding is a factor in more than one out of three fatal construction zone crashes in Florida. In 2012, there were 51 fatalities, 3,476 serious injuries and 4,677 reported crashes in Florida highway construction zones.
IF YOU’RE INVOLVED IN A CRASH, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
If you are injured by a negligent driver in an accident on Interstate 4 – or anywhere else in central Florida – discuss your rights and options with an experienced Orlando truck accident attorney. You may qualify to file a personal injury claim and receive complete compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and all other accident-and-injury-related expenses. The I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project should be complete in 2021, but whenever you drive on I-4 or anywhere else in Florida, always use abundant caution and drive carefully. For more information, speak to our truck accident lawyers today.