COLLIER COUNTY, Fla.-- Alligator Alley gets its name from the wildlife that can often been seen just feet from the interstate. But its reputation comes from the sometimes wild drivers that often use the roadway as their own personal race track, ignoring speed limits and driving while distracted.
There's signage on the roadway that warns drivers of the lack of gas stations for nearly 50 miles, but there is no sign to warn them that emergency help is more than 20 miles away in Everglades City.
For victims of serious crashes, their chance for survival decreases as the so-called "Golden Hour" runs out. Those 60 minutes following a severe trauma would be best spent receiving treatment at a hospital, but for victims of wrecks on the stretch of I-75 between Mile Marker 100 in Collier County and Mile Marker 25 in Broward County, a major fraction of that golden window of time is spent on the side of the road, waiting for help to arrive.
"The only help out here is us because everything is so far away," Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Lauren Miller explained recently during a ride along with WINK News.
She patrols the Alley exclusively, logging more than 300 miles per shift, catching speeders going as fast as 100 mph, and helping stranded drivers in distress.
"Usually the trooper out here is the first one to respond," said Miller. "EMS takes another 10 to 20 minutes after we get there. we're the first responders."
That lag time between FHP response and EMS response has Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta concerned. The closest Fire and EMS station is more than 20 miles away from the State Road 29 exit on Alligator Alley at Mile Marker 80. Commissioner Coletta has asked for a station to be built at the halfway point on the Alley as part of the Ochopee Fire District.
"At this point in time it takes about 30 to 40 minutes, that's response time, all the way from Everglades City to the Alley where it's affected where a person has an accident," Coletta explained. He says the majority of drivers on the Alley probably don't even know it. "I think if they realized this they'd be actually dumb-founded to find out there's no services on the long stretch of highway that traverses part of the state."
The decision to build the station comes down to dollars and cents. Commissioners asked for $3 million dollars to get the station up and running. That includes $1.2 million dollars a year to maintain the station.
There's currently a transportation budget bill on Governor Rick Scott's desk that allows for funding for a new Fire and EMS station near the halfway point on Alligator Alley. The Governor has until June 1st to approve the budget, but last week vowed to pare down the $69.7 billion in spending proposed by the state legislature.
The following is the language of the legislation: "General Transportation; Provides that requirements relating to rule-making and statements of estimated regulatory costs do not apply to the adjustment of tolls. Requires that excess funds generated from Alligator Alley tolls be used to develop and operate a fire station to provide fire, rescue, and emergency management services in adjacent counties along Alligator Alley. Requires that all state agencies develop and adopt assessment protocols for evaluating and determining whether equipment, machinery, or other inventory needs repair or restored, etc. EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2011"
"The governor is a business man," Coletta said. "He's a realistic man and he wants to make sure that the dollars that are spent no matter what they're spent on or where they're spent in Florida are spent to the cost advantage of the public itself and I assure that when the governor views what we have he'll understand what it's all about."
Whether or not that station is built, Trooper Miller says she'll keep patrolling the interstate, just as she always has.
"A good day is if no one broke the law," said Miller. "I didn't have to issue tickets or work a serious crash and I didn't have to take anyone to jail. In my opinion that's a good day because that means I'm doing my job where I don't have to enforce the law because everyone is already following it."