“Yeah, Lots of Space in This Mall.”

I know many of you have abandoned downtown and now practice in Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and elsewhere, but for those of us schleppers who still commute to Miami these new express lanes are a disaster. Are they purposely trying to choke off the City? I’ve already hit three of those stupid plastic poles in protest:

Since last week, drivers have smacked into the row of plastic poles that now divide the new express lanes from local traffic on an 8-mile stretch of northbound I-95 in Miami-Dade County.On Friday, the first rush hour after all the poles were installed, troopers responded to three times the normal number of wrecks on I-95.On Monday, a tractor-trailer collided with a Toyota SUV trying to exit the express lanes in the wrong place by cutting through the poles. The express lanes were blocked for more than two hours.”The [poles] caught people by surprise,” said Lt. Pat Santangelo of the Florida Highway Patrol. “People who ended up in the left lanes didn’t realize they wouldn’t be able to exit. Some people were smart and stayed through all the way to the end. Some people decided to take a chance and go between the poles. Some people made it and some people didn’t.”It’s not just poles drivers have to contend with. Lanes are narrower, too.The state is building express toll lanes between Miami and Fort Lauderdale by converting the existing carpool lanes and adding another lane in each direction.With no room to widen I-95, the state is shaving off a foot from the existing lanes and shoulders and re-striping the highway. The lanes won’t come to Broward until 2010.The first phase on northbound I-95 in Miami-Dade is mostly completed, but tolls won’t be collected until sometime in August.You can enter the express lanes only where they begin just north of the Interstate 195 exit to Miami Beach. You can’t get out until just south of the Golden Glades interchange ramp for Florida’s Turnpike and the Palmetto Expressway.Swerving into the lanes beyond the entrance or bailing out before the end is a moving violation that could get you three points on your license.But the odds of getting caught aren’t good.More than 250,000 vehicles a day jam I-95 in Miami-Dade, a volatile mix of aging retirees, impatient youngsters, tourists and transplants from other states and countries who aren’t familiar with local roads and laws. Two troopers cover the same stretch of road.”It’s a little hard to control,” said FHP’s Santangelo, adding enforcement details and plans for additional troopers are still being ironed out.State officials say concrete barriers separating the express lanes weren’t an option because they would have required widening I-95. That’s why they’re using plastic poles.The state has tried herding I-95 drivers with plastic poles before without success.In the ’90s, plastic poles divided the entrance to the southbound I-95 carpool flyover at the Golden Glades interchange from the regular lanes. But after hundreds of crashes occurred, mostly because drivers mistook the flyover for an exit ramp, officials scrapped the battered poles.

The poles are flexible but can damage the undercarriage of a car if you drive over them. About 50 of the new poles have been snapped from their bases and countless others are bent, and blackened with tire marks.

I predict by November those poles will be long-gone, along with a lot of mufflers and tie rods.