State Makes Its First 'Flex Route'

With more than 60,000 cars and trucks traveling along the congested corridor everyday, something had to be done to loosen the traffic tie-ups.

📅   Wed June 14, 2017 - Midwest Edition #12
Eric Olson


With more than 60,000 cars and trucks traveling along an 8-mile-long corridor of U.S. 23 from the M-14 in Ann Arbor north to Silver Lake Road in Green Oak Township, traffic jams are an everyday occurrence, particularly in the morning and late afternoon.
With more than 60,000 cars and trucks traveling along an 8-mile-long corridor of U.S. 23 from the M-14 in Ann Arbor north to Silver Lake Road in Green Oak Township, traffic jams are an everyday occurrence, particularly in the morning and late afternoon.
With more than 60,000 cars and trucks traveling along an 8-mile-long corridor of U.S. 23 from the M-14 in Ann Arbor north to Silver Lake Road in Green Oak Township, traffic jams are an everyday occurrence, particularly in the morning and late afternoon.
The state of Michigan has come up with a novel, cost-savings solution to alleviate heavy rush-hour traffic on a stretch of U.S. Highway 23 just northeast of Ann Arbor.
Last fall, the Michigan DOT announced plans to significantly improve the thoroughfare with the hope that motorists’ headaches can be eased and traffic can move more smoothly and efficiently.

The state of Michigan has come up with a novel, cost-savings solution to alleviate heavy rush-hour traffic on a stretch of U.S. Highway 23 just northeast of Ann Arbor.

With more than 60,000 cars and trucks traveling along an 8-mile-long corridor of U.S. 23 from the M-14 in Ann Arbor north to Silver Lake Road in Green Oak Township, traffic jams are an everyday occurrence, particularly in the morning and late afternoon.

Compounding the problem is the fact that U.S. 23 through that area is a two-lane road with narrow shoulders.

But last fall, the Michigan DOT announced plans to significantly improve the thoroughfare with the hope that motorists' headaches can be eased and traffic can move more smoothly and efficiently.

A More Flexible Highway

MDOT's project, known as “Flex Route 23”, encompasses several different improvements along the highway, with the centerpiece being the relatively simple task of turning the inside shoulders of the existing road into new traffic lanes for use during daily rush hour.

Under MDOT's plan, the southbound shoulder of U.S. 23 will be upgraded to carry traffic for three hours in the morning, while the northbound shoulder will be open for three hours in the afternoon.

Drivers will be alerted by electronic signs as to when the additional lanes will be open and closed, with local law enforcement on hand to monitor traffic. New trusses are being built every half-mile for the new signage.

Overhead digital signs, cameras and electronic message boards will all be utilized to help motorists safely navigate Flex Route 23, according to MDOT. In addition, the technology on the highway will be designed to employ customized programs tailored to meet the future needs of the highway and its users, such as communicating roadway conditions to cars and trucks with a digital connection to MDOT.

Due to U.S. 23's narrow shoulders, vehicle accidents on the current two-lane road have only worsened traffic delays over the years.

But MDOT hopes to solve that problem, too, by not only upgrading the outside shoulders, but also building five crash-investigation sites along the route to help keep cars and trucks moving after an accident. Each of those sites, arranged on the outside shoulders, will be 30 by 250 ft. in size.

A Lower Cost Solution

This type of innovative, active traffic-management system has been put into use in other parts of the country, but the $92 million Flex Route 23 project is the first of its kind in the Wolverine State.

According to MDOT officials, a standard widening of the highway on each side could have been accomplished, but with a price tag of as much as $350 million – money the state simply does not have.

With gridlock only being a short-term problem each work day, it didn't make sense for MDOT to install new traffic lanes when it could utilize pavement already in place.

“On U.S. 23, we basically have a three-hour traffic slowdown twice a day,” said Mark Sweeney, manager of MDOT's Brighton Transportation Service Center (TSC). “We needed to find an alternative traffic management system that could solve our part-time congestion issues without adding a permanent third lane.”

A Multi-Faceted Project

Work began early last November on Flex Route 23 and plans call for its completion by the end of this year.

Dan's Excavating Inc., one of Michigan and the Midwest's top contractors, is the prime contractor on the project. Based in nearby Shelby Township, the company has a long history of working with MDOT to build and improve infrastructure throughout the state.

The Flex Route 23 blueprint also calls for bridge replacements and repairs at seven intersections, as well as ramp extensions and upgrades, preventive maintenance at a few points and the construction of a 2,000-ft.-long sound wall north of U.S. 23's junction with 8 Mile Road.

Crews and Machines Are Kept Active

Various crews are busy this spring at several points along the 8-mi.-route, with as many as 175 people working on the project, according to Dennis Rozanski of Dan's Excavating.

A number of different earthmoving equipment and cranes are on-site each work day in the employ of Dan's Excavating and its various subcontractors. Rozanski identified Caterpillar dozers, rollers, and backhoes, as well as Link-Belt cranes, as the main pieces in operation along Flex Route 23.

Dan's Excavating is committed to getting its equipment from local dealers, including Michigan Cat, serving the state and region for over 75 years. In addition, the contractor uses AIS Construction Equipment, with six locations across Michigan; and Alta Equipment, a company with a versatile line of machinery showcased in 20 dealerships across Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.

Those machines are replacing bridges at the U.S. 23 intersections with 6 Mile Road, 8 Mile Road and North Territorial Road, with the latter two getting redesigned interchanges with roundabouts at the ramp terminal.

The U.S. 23 bridge over the Great Lakes Central Railroad is also being replaced and widened. On the highway's bridge over Barker Road, the median is being expanded to accommodate the wider median shoulder for the Flex Route.

Entrance ramps will be lengthened at 6 Mile Road, 8 Mile Road, the M-36 highway, Barker Road and North Territorial Road, according to MDOT.

In addition, the bridges at Joy Road and Warren Road will also get much needed attention as crews are working to replace barriers and repair substructure.

Finally, joint repairs and milling and filling are being done throughout the entire length of the Flex Route 23 project.

Traffic shifts are occurring most days to keep vehicles moving while work is progressing on these aspects of the road project and Rozanski reported that has gone very well this spring and he expects the intensity of the work will increase over the summer.

Once the Flex Route 23 project is completed, MDOT plans to study how efficiently the system is working and how well motorists are able to navigate the roadway. The flexibility of the traffic management system gives the department the ability to then make slight changes in how cars and trucks move along that stretch of U.S. 23, if needed.

CEG