A new construction project along US-23 between Brighton and Ann Arbor should help relieve morning and evening rush hour traffic.
The Michigan Department of Transportation is in the process of opening up the project to bids from contractors. “Flex Route 23” incorporates a traffic system found in areas on the east coast.
Instead of adding a third lane, crews will broaden the shoulder of the road 13 feet to create an auxiliary lane to be used when traffic congests or a vehicle accident causes backups.
Gantrys with electronic signs will be built every half-mile to let motorists know which lanes are in use, and when drivers are allowed to use the third lane on the shoulder.
MDOT University region engineer Paul Ajegba says expanding the entire roadway to create a permanent third lane would be more expensive, and unnecessary.
“We think this really addresses the problem,” Ajegba said. “You don’t need to put a permanent third lane out there. You have a peak-hour congestion problem in the morning and in the evening in each direction. This solves that problem and it’s less expensive.”
When the project is complete, lanes will be marked with either a green arrow, a red “X”, or a yellow merge sign to let people know where they are allowed to drive.
The Flex Route project is part of a slew of other projects including some bridge replacements and repairs and ramp maintenance at some exits.
This will be a first-of-its kind traffic management system in Michigan. But State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle says there are other areas of the state could benefit from a similar setup.
“(It’s) an innovative solution that frankly we think is the beginning of potentially many other projects like this across the state,” Steudle said. “It really is an efficient use of the resources we have.”
State officials will be able to monitor traffic in real time and open or close lanes as needed.
Using the shoulder-lane when it is closed would be a traffic offense that could result in a ticket.
The shoulder expansion will be on the left shoulder of both northbound and southbound lanes. A standard shoulder on the right-hand side will be maintained for room to pull over.
Steudle says he hopes to have a contractor signed and begin the early stages of construction this November, the project will be completed in the spring.
Solutions to traffic congestion along US-23 have been debated for decades. In the past, rebuilding the highway to accommodate more traffic would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Steudle credits advances in technology for making this Flex Route a cheaper, feasible alternative.
“This solution really wasn’t viable earlier because the technology wasn’t there yet,” Steudle said.
The official budget for the project won’t be set until the bids come in from contractors, but Ajegba estimates a cost of roughly $120 million for design and construction.