Action News Jax Investigates: Highway headaches being treated by two little known programs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates massive delays on local highways, sometimes leaving drivers stuck in traffic for hours.

“One time [I was] stuck three hours [in traffic],” says driver Edith Strauss. “That was the worst time of my life.”

According to the most recent urban mobility report, published by Texas A&M, Jacksonville drivers waste 46 hours in traffic every year.

In an Action News Jax investigation, Action News Jax’s Ben Becker discovered a little known agreement between the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Highway Patrol called the Open Road Policy Agreement.

It states the “goal” is that “all incidents be cleared from the roadway within 90 minutes of the arrival of the first responding officer.”

”It’s a pet peeve of mine to have the road closed,” says Sergeant Dylan Bryan, who is with the FHP. “There’s always room for improvement.”

Becker asked FDOT for its records from 2020 and 2021 and out of more than 5,000 incidents in Northeast Florida, 257 were cleared after that 90 minute goal – including seven crashes on the Buckman Bridge, seven between International Golf Parkway and 210, and six on the Dames Point Bridge.

However — they are meeting their goals, on average.

In Duval County, FDOT took an average of 45:30 minutes to clear crashes, and in St. Johns County it was just over an hour at 60:24.

Both were under the 90 minute goal.

“Whenever you are stuck there are a lot of moving parts,” says FDOT spokesman Hampton Ray, who gave Becker a tour of its regional transportation management center, where roads are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The agency also has a program called R.I.S.C. — Rapid Incident Scene Clearance.

That’s where FDOT contracts a third-party vendor to clear the roadway after major crashes involving cargo or spills. In these cases — vendors get a $2,500 bonus if they clear a wreck within 90 minutes, but if they don’t clear it within three hours — it’s a $600 fine.

According to FDOT, there were 12 RISC incidents locally in 2020.

The average time clearing roads in Duval County was 177 minutes and in St. Johns, 156 minutes.

FDOT paid out $28,000 to thirty vendors under that R.I.S.C. program.

Becker asked Ray how he would grade FDOT’s performance.

”Our goal is it not to grade but get people where they need to go safely and efficiently,” said Ray.

As for drivers like Catye Evlniuk, she’s changed her driving habits to beat the traffic. “I actually listen to the radio now instead of blue tooth so I know where traffic is.”