Construction on electronic signs along areas of Interstate 75 should begin around January, nearly two years after the 20-vehicle pileup that inspired public concern over drivers’ safety on the highway.
Construction should finish in about a year, Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gina Busscher said.
“It just takes a lot of time sometimes,” she said, “because we want to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, not just wasting money and doing a knee-jerk reaction to things.”
Eleven people died and 21 people were injured in the Payne’s Prairie pileup January 29, 2012.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement report cited several reasons for the accidents: the time of night, poor visibility from fog and smoke and an inadequate warning system. The report criticized the highway patrol’s decision-making process for closing and re-opening the interstate.
State Rep. Keith Perry has been outspoken about the I-75 tragedy. He said he hopes new technology will solve problems with the old warning system.
“The other problem is that you cannot have people full-time monitoring all of the road ways,” Perry said. “And so what happened in this instance — as the road got to a point where it was deemed and should be close — was based on a physical person being there making that assumption.”
A study was required to implement new technology for certain road ways, Busscher said. This technology uses a multitude of new tools to communicate with not only the public, but law enforcement as soon as possible.
“It will be able to provide information on when the visibility issue comes in where they can’t see so many feet ahead of them because of fog,” Busscher said. “That information will be transmitted to the message boards so it will automatically start telling people that there is a fog issue, and then when it gets to a certain point, it triggers our people out traffic management center that they know to alert law enforcement.”
Perry acknowledges it’s been a slow process towards seeing practical improvements, but he said the new system will be one that can be used and improved upon.
“We were all a little frustrated at the time it has taken,” Perry said. “I think the end result will be something that will work very well, but I hope we just don’t sit back and say, ‘OK we’ve done this, and that’s all we need to do.’”
“We still need to always be looking forward,” he said, “always looking at what we can do.”
Electronic signs can be seen in Jacksonville and Orlando. A similar incident in 2011 on Interstate 10 killed two people and involved 40 vehicles.
Orlando resident Dave Barnett said the signs are extremely useful and helpful to motorists in his area.
“I see everything (on the signs), both when there is an Amber Alert or when somebody elderly is missing, or just for traffic updates when there’s a closure up ahead or something,” he said.