New I-95 interchange should ease Viera’s traffic pain

Residents of Brevard County’s South Beaches who may be frustrated by Viera’s notorious traffic congestion whenever they try to visit county offices can look forward to an easier time in the late summer.

That’s when the Florida Department of Transportation plans to let traffic from all sides onto an estimated $17 million new interchange on Interstate 95 at Viera Boulevard. “But right now, we’re having a ‘soft opening,’” FDOT spokeswoman Jessica Ottaviano said last week. “We’re letting a single lane of traffic onto the interchange so drivers can get used to a new traffic pattern.”

Only they’re not allowed to get on I-95 itself yet, she said. Not until the summer.

The soft opening allows drivers to tackle what the FDOT calls a “diverging diamond” design. Drivers can enter the ramps from either the east or west side of Viera Boulevard.

And after that, the ramps will take eastbound and westbound drivers through signalized stops and into the other’s side of the road. For example, a driver heading west on Viera Boulevard will drive on the right side, as usual. But the ramps will take him to the left side as he continues on a bridge over I-95. After the bridge, the ramp will take him back to the right side.

A driver heading east will follow a mirror image of the westbound driver.

That’s how someone can explore the interchange without going onto I-95, Ottaviano said. When the full project opens, other lanes will lead to the interstate. “Sometimes this is called a ‘crisscross interchange’ because of the ramps crossing each other,” she said.

Project records show state transportation contractors began engineering work in 2015 with the goal of relieving congestion at two existing interchanges – to the south at Wickham Road and to the north at Fiske Boulevard. Those interchanges are reaching their maximum capacity.

County officials in the 1990s relocated their main County Commission and School Board administrative offices from the longtime county seat of Titusville at the north end, to Viera, a new development in the central part of the county. Since then, records show, Viera has grown to 11,567 acres with a potential of 18,900 homes or other dwellings, plus 2.9 million square feet of retail space such as The Shoppes of Viera, as well as offices and light industrial businesses. “The total development is anticipated to generate approximately 265,400 daily trips, which exceed the available capacity of the two existing I-95 interchanges,” FDOT engineers wrote in their 2015 preliminary report.

Ottaviano said the new design was found to be safer that traditional interchanges because drivers exiting the ramps won’t have to cross opposing traffic lanes on Viera Boulevard.

Georganna Gillette, executive director of the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization, must deal with the current congestion each time she goes to or from her Viera office. She said she expects the new interchange to ease driving. “Once the interchange is fully operational, it will take several months for traffic patterns to stabilize,” she said.

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