Upping the speed limit from 55 to 60 mph along a dozen miles of State Road 408 through downtown Orlando would ease road rage, lane surfing, rear-end crashes and rollover swerves, say transportation and law-enforcement agencies.
The Central Florida Expressway Authority will vote on such a change Thursday as a solution for a toll road where 85 percent of traffic already is clocked at 66 to 78 mph between Kirkman Road west of Orlando and Chickasaw Trail east of the city.
As Central Florida’s main, east-west transportation spine, S.R. 408 has been revamped with additional lanes, high-speed toll plazas and rebuilt interchanges in recent years.
The toll authority contends that the core 12 miles of its busiest road are now designed for 60 mph. Law-enforcement representatives said a speed-limit hike would help smooth traffic into a more uniform flow.
The 55 mph speed limit was set nearly 50 years ago when the tolled expressway opened. The speed limit beyond Kirkman and Chickasaw is 65 mph.
“We have a certain segment of the population that does the speed limit and not a mile over it,” said Kim Montes, Central Florida spokeswoman for the Florida Highway Patrol.
The danger of that is that the vast majority of traffic is moving faster — and even much faster — with some drivers resorting to “lane surfing” and abrupt lane changes, Montes said, and too often “they either run into someone or they overturn.”
“These are interstate-speed crashes, so they are going to be doozies,” Montes said.
Montes and Orlando Police Department spokeswoman Autumn Jones said their agencies routinely conduct speed enforcement focused on S.R. 408, including with squads of troopers on motorcycles and at targeted locations, and with advanced notice given publicly on social media.
“We are out there and they are still doing tremendous speeds,” said Jones.
“But that is not the only road that has a speeding issue,” Montes said. “Unfortunately with the resources that law enforcement has, we can’t focus all of our efforts on the 408.”
The expressway authority has sought in recent years to underwrite the hiring and equipping of eight, additional Florida Highway Patrol troopers, which would add to the current force of eight troopers for the more than 100 miles of authority roadway in Central Florida.
So far, state government leaders and legislators have not backed the authority’s initiative to go outside the normal funding source or process for troopers.
Montes and Jones said their agencies in past years have provided accident analysis for road improvements and perspectives on the need to increase the speed limit to 60 mph for a smoother traffic flow.
The expressway authority contracted with transportation consultant Dewberry for a S.R. 408 speed-limit analysis. Dewberry’s report in November recommended an increase to 60 mph.
Higher speeds do not necessarily mean increased risk for a crash, the consultant wrote.
“When drivers travel at the same or similar speeds in the same direction, even at high speeds on expressways and interstates, motorists are … unlikely to collide as long as they maintain the same or similar travelling speeds,” the consultant stated.
“Conversely, when drivers travel at different rates of speed, the frequency of crashes increases, especially crashes involving multiple vehicles. The key factor is speed variance,” Dewberry concluded.
In December, the Florida Department of Transportation confirmed that a speed limit of 60 mph on S.R. 408 between Kirkman and Chickasaw would conform with state guidelines.
Central Florida Expressway spokesman Brian Hutchings said if the authority’s board approves the change during a meeting Thursday, it will take three to four months to replace 55 speed-limit signs and implement the higher speed. A portion of S.R. 408 near Interstate 4 interchange where construction is occurring could take longer, he said.
The authority will study resulting speeds and accidents a year later, Hutchings said.