ORMOND BEACH — At 8 a.m. each workday, John Crotts chooses to avoid Interstate 95 on his way to work as manager of J&P Cycles, a parts and accessories store in the Destination Daytona complex, even though on paper it would appear to be the fastest route.
"I come up that way," he said, pointing to Old Dixie Highway and Pine Tree Drive on a map displayed on a table in front of him during a public hearing Tuesday evening. "Just to avoid this offramp."
The offramp that concerns him — and many others, including state transportation engineers — is the southbound Interstate 95 exit at U.S. 1 in northern Ormond Beach.
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Citing a history of crashes and projections for increased congestion, engineers have begun a project development and environmental (PD&E) study that's part of the process for a major project. At the public hearing, residents were shown a video presentation and had opportunities to examine maps and data in detail with FDOT officials and consultants available for questions.
Among the two design options is a "diverging diamond" interchange, a pattern becoming increasingly common in Florida as experts tout its safety benefits.
The current interchange has been described as a "gateway to Volusia County" for southbound I-95 travelers.
First constructed in 1964, when Ormond Beach's population was around 9,000, the city has since grown fivefold. Along U.S. 1, a string of commercial businesses cater to motorists and visitors.
Like much of the rest of Florida, residential and commercial developments are approved and under way in the surrounding areas. Plantation Oaks, 1,044 acres with 1,500 approved homes, is under construction to the east, while to the south, Ormond Crossings — a mixed-use development — has nearly 3,000 residential units plus office and industrial space as well as a school planned.
All of that development is expected to increase traffic counts on I-95 by about 40% and more than double the number of vehicles on U.S. 1 in coming years, the FDOT projects.
Diverging diamond versus offset
Steven Buck, a professional engineer from FDOT, said the I-95/U.S. 1 interchange is outdated in several ways.
"The U.S. 1 roadway, the bridge that runs over it is actually at a clearance that trucks can hit from time to time," Buck said. "Normally, you want 16½ feet. It's a lot less than that."
Also, he said, the loop ramps at the interchange are much tighter than modern-day standards, resulting in fast-moving vehicles having difficulty making the turns. One of the ramps, exiting northbound I-95, actually has a special asphalt in place to help keep vehicles from sliding off the road.
Buck said there have also been some bicycle-pedestrian crashes as the population grew, so designs incorporate dedicated paths for people on foot and bicycles.
FDOT presented three alternatives:
Construct a diverging diamond interchange (DDI). This design would involve crossing the eastbound and westbound lanes of U.S. 1 traffic with one another, It reduces the number of potential conflict points, where traffic either crosses, merges or diverges. In a traditional interchange, there are 26 conflict points. The DDI lowers that to 14 conflict points. A DDI at the I-95/U.S. 1 interchange is estimated to cost $130.1 million.
Build an offset intersection. With this design, all of the exits from I-95 onto U.S. 1 converge at one stoplight. This is accomplished by building the southbound I-95 exit ramp as a bridge over the interstate and bringing traffic to the highway on the east side. This design minimizes conflicts between bicycles, pedestrians and motor vehicles. The offset is projected to cost $140.9 million.
Addressing congestion near Destination Daytona
Crotts expressed concern that the diverging diamond will be confusing to motorists, many of whom are tourists and truckers exiting I-95 there to go to Destination Daytona or the Love's Travel Stop.
"Part of their idea is really good. I think part of their idea is complicated," Crotts said.
He would prefer a less expensive, simpler fix: An additional left turn lane from southbound I-95 to eastbound U.S. 1 toward downtown Ormond Beach.
"The No. 1 problem is the southbound exit," he said.
David Sharp, pastor of The Chapel, a nondenominational church that hosted the public hearing, said much has changed since the church building was built off U.S. 1 just west of I-95 in 2006.
In that time, Destination Daytona — a sprawling complex of motorcycle-related retail shops, restaurants and a hotel that packs big crowds during Bike Week, Biketoberfest and other events — has emerged.
"When we first came out here, there wasn't a lot of businesses or things out here so the exit probably wasn't that well-traveled," Sharp said. "But as soon as Harley-Davidson and all the traffic started coming, it can be very dangerous, especially during the event times. It just seems like an old design that needs to be updated."
Joseph and Donna Valerio said they've seen congestion become a problem at the interchange in the six years they've lived in Ormond Beach.
"If we ever had to get out of here because of a hurricane, we wouldn't be able to. It would be shut down," said Joseph Valerio, a candidate for Ormond Beach City Council.
Of the two options, the diverging diamond and the offset, Valerio had a favorite.
"The offset made more sense to me. It's a little bit more money, but it seems less complicated," he said.
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This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Residents weigh in on Ormond Beach I-95 interchange redesign options