Article by: Rick Neale
For the full story visit: Florida Today
SARASOTA — To entice anxious drivers to brave Sarasota’s unusual new double-crossover interchange, nearby Polo Grill and Bar started offering free appetizers and handing out commemorative stickers: “I Survived Diverging Diamond.”
Sarasota’s $74.5 million diverging diamond interchange — the first in the Sunshine State and largest in the nation — opened to traffic in late May. Florida Department of Transportation officials declared all 12 lanes fully operational last week.
Behind the scenes, FDOT has 38 more DDIs in various stages of development, with crisscross interchanges under construction in Palm Bay, Miami and Yulee. Major construction may begin late this year on a diverging diamond at Viera Boulevard and Interstate 95.
In Sarasota, motorists cross to the left side of University Parkway and approach the Interstate 75 overpass.
“As you’re going underneath, you’re going to be driving on the other side of the road — but you won’t realize it. Because you’re just following the lines, the way that they’re drawn on the road,” said Colleen McGue, Sarasota/Manatee MPO transportation planner.
Past the bridge, drivers switch back over to the right side of the roadway. Why make such maneuvers? By design, drivers merge onto I-75 without having to turn left facing oncoming traffic.
“Everybody was hyped up about it. And we just thought that this would be a fun way for people to come in who hadn’t driven through it,” Tommy Klauber, co-owner of Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch, said of the sticker promotion.
“Many people were really avoiding the intersection going under the interstate prior to the end of construction. So it was a big thing for us,” he said.
Since the Sarasota DDI opened, Klauber said reaction is favorable.
“Getting on and out of Lakewood Ranch, it used to be backed up for 30, 45 minutes to get out of here on Friday afternoon at rush hour. Now, pretty much you’re zipping onto the interstate right away, unless there’s an accident on the interstate,” Klauber said.
America’s first DDI debuted in 2009 on Interstate 44 in Springfield, Missouri. At least 88 exist today, with Sarasota’s sandwiched on the list between Fishers, Indiana, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The DDIs coming to Florida include some of the state’s biggest highway projects, like Beyond the Ultimate I-4 (six DDIs), Sawgrass Expressway (five DDIs) and First Coast Expressway (four DDIs).
“Florida could be a real hotbed for these. It’s one of the best states for the DDI because of so many synergies there: so much traffic, so many safety problems,” said Gilbert Chlewicki, who bills himself as “the father of the diverging diamond.”
Chlewicki, who owns divergingdiamond.com, proposed creating a “criss-cross intersection” back in 2000 when he was a graduate student at the University of Maryland. Today, he is a transportation director with American Consulting Professionals, a national firm headquartered in Wesley Chapel.
The firm is providing engineering-design services for three future I-75 diverging diamonds: Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers, Clark Road in Sarasota, and State Road 56 in Wesley Chapel.
“I’m glad Florida’s finally on board. It’s taken a long time — but Florida’s finally on board,” Chlewicki said.