The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) recently opened flexroute lanes along a nine mile segment of US 23 north of Ann Arbor. This was done as a cost saving alternative ($92 million) to three-laning the freeway ($400 million) through this very busy corridor. Here’s a link to a digital brochure on the project.
The flexroute lanes operate in both directions during peak rush hours and special events, such as University of Michigan football games; and when regular travel lanes are blocked by accidents or construction. Unlike some flex lanes, these lanes are improved inside shoulders (a.k.a. dynamic shoulder lanes) that are situated on opposite sides of the freeway’s grass median, so they are not reversable lanes.
Overhead signals spaced along the route notify motorists if the flexroute lanes are open or not. The system opened the week of November 13th and operates between Exit 54 (M-36) on the north and Exit 45 (M-14) on the south.
I was pleased to see on Thanksgiving Day that no drivers were disobeying the closed flexroute lanes signal. My son, who commutes this route regularly, reports that he has yet to see anyone using the flexroure lane when it is closed. Given the propensity of Michigan drivers to flout speed limits, it is reassuring to see these rules being followed.
A flexroute such as this appears to be an excellent active traffic management option for reducing peak hour congestion without going to the expense of widening an entire highway. Whether a flexroute creates the same kind of induced demand that standard road/highway widening does will be interesting to learn.
While dynamic shoulder lanes are an impressive and transferable idea to other places here in Michigan and elsewhere, this planner would still like to see alternatives attempted that actually reduce the number of cars on the road, especially those with a single occupant. For this particular corridor, the previously discussed commuter rail option along the existing tracks connecting Ann Arbor and Howell (located just west of Brighton) would be a good option to consider. HOV (high occupancy vehicle) or BRT (bus rapid transit) lanes on US 23 would be more difficult to implement without adding a third lane the entire length of the corridor between the two cities. Regardless, MDOT should be commended for trying out an alternative solution to the congestion problems that can plague US 23 north of Ann Arbor.