Madison Beltline improvements to ease congestion, enhance safety

This is a graphic of the planned flex lane configuration for the Beltline around Madison.

MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Transportation awarded a project to improve the Madison Beltline (US 12/18) inside median shoulders for use as an additional travel lane during peak traffic periods. In addition, the project will address deteriorating pavement; improve existing drainage deficiencies; and replace the existing median barrier wall along the Beltline. These highway improvements will be made from the Whitney Way exit to the I-39/90 interchange. Payne and Dolan of Waukesha, was the lowest of two bids received.

The $45.1 million project, scheduled to start in March, will pave the way for a new concept to Wisconsin – Dynamic Part-Time Shoulder Use. This measure is recognized as a safe, sustainable and reliable way to alleviate congestion – especially during morning and afternoon rush hour.

“This will improve daily life for commuters, as well as visitors attending major area events. The part-time shoulder use concept – what we’re calling flex lane – is a first for Wisconsin; however, it’s already in place in 17 states,” WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson said. “It’s another example of the department providing a safe, cost-effective solution to address periodic and recurring congestion.”

The shoulder improvement project is expected to be completed by December. WisDOT will continue to engage stakeholders such as emergency responders, law enforcement, local and state officials, the business community, and the general public to educate traveling motorists of the flex lane project.

Part-time shoulder use is used in at least 17 other states. It allows vehicle traffic on paved shoulders during peak travel times. Changeable message signs located above the lanes are used to indicate when the shoulder is available for use.

A green downward arrow will indicate the lane is open for travel. The lane will be used for travel during:

• Peak travel periods

• Special events

• Incidents impacting traffic

A red X will be displayed when the lane is closed. Built within the existing footprint of the Madison Beltline, no real estate acquisitions are necessary with the flex lane project.

What community leaders are saying about Flex Lane:

“It might be another fifteen years before we see a complete and desperately-needed reconstruction of the beltline. That, and the extraordinary population and business growth in the region, are why the MadREP Board of Directors supports the Flex Lane initiative,” said Paul Jadin, former president and CEO of the Madison Region Economic Partnership.

“The (Dane County) Sheriff’s Office has a deputy assigned to the Beltline on weekdays as part of our Freeway Service Patrol, to assist motorists, clear road blockages and keep traffic flowing. … Although many first responders were initially skeptical about the flex lane, after learning more about the plan, including how it is utilized in other states, we believe it is a viable traffic management strategy for improving overall safety and reducing congestion on the Beltline,” Dane County Sheriff David J. Mahoney, said.

“When traffic patterns return to more normal levels, reducing congestion on the Beltline will be of critical importance to Epic and the thousands of our staff, customers, recruits, and service providers who will use the Beltline every day. Once it’s complete, this construction will provide a critical short-term solution to a growing problem on an important transportation artery in our community,” Sverre Roang, chief administrative officer for Epic, said.

Evaluations indicate that the flex lane will continue to function for 10-15 years as planning, environmental studies and final design processes of a long-term solution are developed.

The separate, ongoing Beltline Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) study will identify and evaluate a wide range of modal strategies that could address current and future Beltline needs, including potential enhancements to transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Opportunities for public involvement and feedback about potential long-term solutions, identified in the PEL, will begin in the next few months.

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