The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is constructing Flex Route dynamics to relieve congestion and improve safety along US-23. The Flex Route will begin at M14 and end just south of M-36.
The project is the first of its kind in Michigan and will employ a lane control system comprised of overhead signs, cameras, and electronic message boards. Flex Route technology is designed to manage traffic congestion during peak commutes by opening and closing the median shoulder to traffic.
The median shoulder becomes a temporary third traffic lane during times of heavy use such as daily rush hour and holiday traffic.
It is common knowledge that US-23 experiences heavy southbound traffic traffic in the morning and again northbound in the evening with overall traffic lighter outside of these times. The congestion is as frustrating as it is dangerous with accidents almost daily on the busy strip of road.
It is these conditions that caused MDOT to choose this section of US-23 to be Michigan’s first Flex Route. Once the project is completed, average drive time during morning and evening commutes is expected to be reduced by 20 minutes through this stretch.
In addition to daily rush hour, the extra lane will be opened for use as needed such as holidays, bad weather and other temporary conditions like traffic accidents, construction, or U of M football games.
The management of the lane works like this; MDOT’s 24/7 command center, the Statewide Transportation Operations Center (STOC), monitors road conditions through sensors, distress calls and video feeds from closed-circuit TV cameras.
If a traffic condition develops, STOC will communicate use of the Flex Route with drivers through electronic signs mounted above each lane. These signs will show drivers which lanes are available and recommended speed for current conditions.
A large green arrow displayed above the widened shoulder will show when it can be used as a third lane. A large red X above the Flex Route indicates that the widened shoulder is not to be used at that time. Yellow chevrons will tell motorists to move over or merge to avoid incidents on the road ahead.
There are a couple of reasons MDOT didn’t simply construct a permanent third lane. An extra lane is not necessary on roads that typically experience traffic slowdowns only during regular peak travel periods. Flex Routes save money by adapting the shoulder for use as a temporary third lane instead of constructing an extra lane. MDOT explains, “Employing Flex Route technology enables to achieve more capacity out of the existing infrastructure for less money.”
MDOT reports on their website that the project is 75 percent complete and expect it to be finished by the end of the year.