Madison flex lane tweaks see morning commutes move later
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – With data about usage of the Beltline’s flex lane rolling in, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is refining the times drivers need that extra slot on the highway.
DOT spokesperson Michael Bie explained traffic managers crunched the numbers from the first six months the flex lane, which opened in July 2022, has been in operation. He said that has let them adjust the times drivers see the downward arrow above the left shoulder to reflect better how much the road is being used at any given time.
One change already in effect, he noted, affects drivers heading east in the mornings. Some of them are finding the new lane closed during their morning commutes. Bie indicated that is because DOT officials have decided to start opening it 45 to 60 minutes later, which he says corresponds more closely with traffic behavior.
Prior to the change, the eastbound lane would open before 7 a.m., he noted.
While DOT officials are monitoring to learn the optimum times they can expect the flex lane to be open, Bie pointed out its usage lane is designed to be dynamic. Whether drivers see that green ⬇ or a big red ❌ at any given time depends on multiple factors, including how many cars are on the road, weather conditions, if a special event is happening, or if there is an emergency.
Whenever they open the lane, the Dane Co. Highway Department and Dane Co. Sheriff’s Office work with the WisDOT to ensure the route is watched and safe to drive, Bie assured drivers.
The flex lane opened in mid-July and runs from Whitney Way to the I-39/90 interchange. It is meant to be in operation during peak times. At its launch, WisDOT’s first estimates of some of the peak times would fall between 7:15 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
After three months of operation, WisDOT was already calling the flex lane a success, claiming it reduced peak traffic times by 22%. At the time, southwest region operations chief John Steiner predicted traffic times may still improve.
In the first full month the flex lane was open, August 2022, WisDOT recorded 46 crashes over the stretch where the flex lane was built. That was eleven fewer than the previous August.
In October, some drivers were already ready to see the lanes extended further, with one Madison resident Vince Stepter saying he would like to have the added room all the way to the Middleton interchanges.
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