SPANISH FORT, Ala (WKRG) — It’s a $7.3 million dollar “diamond” that highway department officials say is bright and shiny. But a lot of drivers think it’s a “fugazi.”
Alabama’s first diverging diamond interchange, or DDI, opened in July at Highway-181 and Interstate-10. The design places drivers temporarily on the left side of the road. It eliminates left hand turns onto the interstate against oncoming traffic and eliminates long back-ups in turn lanes.
Despite its advantages, ALDOT traffic engineers knew the DDI would take time to get used to.
“We of course expected a little bit of a learning curve,” said ALDOT spokesperson Katelyn Turner.
That is a major understatement.
Frequent drivers in the area didn’t hold back in their disdain for the diamond.
“I think it’s really dangerous,” said Marissa Layva of Pensacola
“I don’t like it. It’s a mess,” added Cindy Murphy of Daphne.
Murphy believes the diamond is confusing and that drivers can end up going onto the interstate when they don’t intend to.
“I actually did that a few weeks ago,” admitted Rick McCann of Daphne. “I went to I-10 and wasn’t supposed to go to I-10, but I was in the wrong lane.”
According to Turner, 66 accidents happened around this intersection in the last year before the DDI opened. Many of those wrecks were serious. Turner says the DDI will reduce the number, and severity, of accidents.
“Any accidents that may occur are generally less severe and usually result from a merging motion,” Turner said.
Judy Sullivan of Spanish Fort drives the diamond often and gave it the best review of drivers who spoke to News 5.
“The jury’s still out,” she said.
But Sullivan added she liked the additional lanes added in the project and says ALDOT has made improvements to the DDI since it opened.
“The way they put the paint down to let you know that you’re getting westbound on I-10, I find that very helpful,” she said.
Turner says ALDOT has been listening to drivers to make the DDI as safe and understandable as possible.
“We certainly monitor it, we tweak it and adjust it in places that are necessary,” Turner said. “We take feedback from people who say ‘hey we could use an additional sign here, or a marking here, or I’m confused here.’ We take this all into consideration.”
Still, most drivers are reluctant to accept the DDI.
“I’m not wild about it,” said Bill Green of Daphne.
Green, however, admits to what might be the strongest reason drivers don’t like the diamond.
“Change is hard to take,” he said.
Turner says she is confident that drivers eventually will accept the diamond. She says study after study shows the pattern moves traffic more quickly and reduces serious accidents.
And she says, drivers need to get used to the diamond, because more are on the way.
“I do think DDI’s are on the rise,” Turner said. “I think this one can be a blueprint for other DDI’s that may appear across the state.
ALDOT’s next DDI is planned for an exit off Interstate-65 south of Birmingham. Developed in France, the first DDI opened in the U.S. in Missouri in 2009. By 2015, there were 50 in the U.S. The DDI at I-10 and Highway-181 is America’s 100th.
More other DDI locations in the U.S., click here