DANE COUNTY (WKOW) — The Beltline Flex Lane opened on July 13. Nearly six months later, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) said the drivers are getting used to the additional driving lane, and it’s reducing travel times.
John Steinter, the operations chief for WisDOT’s Southwest Region, said it used to take drivers, on average, about 20 to 25 minutes to make the 10-mile drive where the Flex Lane now is, roughly from Verona Road to I-39/90.
However, he said recent data indicates that travel time is cut in half with the Flex Lane open.
“We see that as a great positive of being able to get people across the Beltline in a more time-reliable system,” Steiner said.
However, it’s not all been smooth sailing.
Steiner said, when the Flex Lane first opened, WisDOT noticed some issues where the lane ends and drivers have to merge back into traffic.
“There were some instances that we did see where traffic maybe didn’t have enough notification that the end was coming up,” he said.
So, WisDOT increased the distance from the end of the lane when drivers would see messages telling them to merge and added more static signs signaling the end of the Flex Lane.
Steiner said WisDOT is also still adjusting the exact times the lane is open. Generally, it becomes available during the morning and evening rush, but Steiner said varying traffic patterns can cause times to shift between days.
Weather can also play a role in when the Flex Lane is open and closed.
Tuesday, heavy fog moved through Dane County during the morning commute, and the Flex Lane was closed.
Steiner said that blocked the view WisDOT staff had from mounted cameras used to make sure the Flex Lane is clear of any obstacles before it opens.
“Maybe at the road level it didn’t seem as bad, but, really, we have to look at it from where we have to operate it,” he said. “They have to be able to see if there’s any obstructions or a stalled car or anything out there. If we can’t see that from our cameras, we’re going to opt to not open the Flex Lane.”
He said WisDOT teams meet often to talk about the Flex Lane and discuss what is and isn’t working. He said, as they learn more, WisDOT will release additional information about the Flex Lane’s impact on travel in Dane County.
“We’re still learning as we go through this,” he said. “We haven’t hit every situation, every instance, and we’re taking a lot of notes, taking a lot of data, sitting down and talking weekly to see if there’s other things we need to look at.”
One trend he said WisDOT has noticed: Big Ten football games bring bigger crowds and more traffic to Madison.
However, Steiner said that’s not the only large event that has increased travel volume on the Beltline.
“A little surprise to us was there was a quilting fair, people that are into that, that was a big draw for traffic that we didn’t quite expect,” he said.
One area Steiner said WisDOT continues to monitor is how often drivers speed in the Flex Lane or use it when it is closed.
He said some drivers are breaking the rules, but he said it doesn’t happen more on the Beltline than on other highways.
“99% of the drivers do exactly what we asked them to do and they cooperate, and that’s what we like to see,” he said. “We’d like to get 100%, but we always know there’s a few out there that just don’t want to comply.”