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Flex Route to Help Traffic Flow on US 23 in Livingston County

by: Larry Bernstein
Dan’s Excavating, Inc. moves dirt on a section of the U.S. Flex Route project in Livingston County.
Dan’s Excavating, Inc. moves dirt on a section of the U.S. Flex Route project in Livingston County.
U.S. 23 is a north-south highway running from Jacksonville, Florida, to the northernmost point in Michigan. In Livingston County, Michigan – about 50 miles west of Detroit – U.S. 23 is the only major north-south route and it's plagued with congestion. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is in the middle of the U.S. 23 Flex Route – which is a long-term project that aims to ease traffic issues.
Get the Traffic Flowing
Currently, U.S. 23 has two existing lanes in each direction where the project is occurring. The area has narrow shoulders and medians, along with heavy traffic volumes. The average daily traffic count on U.S. 23 just south of I-96 is 76,715 vehicles per day.

South of the project area, the route was widened in 2017 as part of phase one of the project and it helped alleviate peak hour and incident-related traffic congestion. The flex route wasn't extended, despite the need, due to a lack of funding. This left a bottleneck in the area.

“With this project, MDOT is able to move forward with the second phase of the flex route, which will eliminate the bottleneck and allow the dynamic shoulder to be extended and drop into the entrance ramp to westbound I-96,” says Aaron Jenkins, a Communications Representative with MDOT. “With the elimination of the northbound bottleneck, traffic operations and safety are expected to significantly improve for this corridor.”

MDOT commissioned a performance and safety study and based on the study, MDOT anticipates that overall crashes will be reduced by 34 percent with the construction of the flex route system along the U.S. 23 corridor.

During this project phase, 7.5 miles of highway will be impacted. “The main goal of this phase of the project is to alleviate peak hour directional congestion,” Jenkins says. With this extension, the flex route will reach the I-96 interchange. I-96 is an east-west interstate that runs through Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

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Other project work includes constructing crash sites, interchange reconfigurations, cold milling and resurfacing, bridge replacement and bridge rehabilitation of nine structures. The rehab work includes temporary widening, epoxy overlay, substructure and railing patching, concrete surface coating, structural steel cleaning and coating, heat straightening, retaining wall installation, sound wall installation, ITS equipment, drainage, signing, lighting, and pavement markings.

What is a Flex Route?
The flex route is not a 24-hour fix for the congestion on U.S. 23. This part-time fix was a deliberate decision by MDOT and government officials. It’s more cost-effective and provides the same benefit as an extra lane.

The flex route is a lane control system that uses overhead signs, cameras, and electronic message boards to inform drivers when an additional lane is available and unavailable. The system will manage traffic more efficiently during peak hours by opening and closing the median shoulder to traffic. With advance notice of delays and incidents ahead, it’s expected to enhance safety.

The crash investigation sites will provide a safe refuge for motorists, law enforcement, and public service vehicles after an incident. In addition, the Freeway Courtesy Patrol will be active along the corridor to provide assistance and clear incidents safely and quickly.

MDOT's flex routes are monitored by the department's Transportation Operations Centers (TOC). The TOCs are a seven-day-a-week operation that houses dispatchers from MDOT and Michigan State Police. The agencies share resources and information by monitoring traffic sensors, distress calls, and video feeds from closed-circuit TV cameras.

A Limited Work Zone
Since U.S. 23 is the only major north-south route in the area and is already heavily trafficked, the road needs to remain open. In addition, the team has a limited area to work in since construction is taking place on the shoulders.

“Given the limited workspace and the need to keep two lanes of traffic open as much as possible, the engineering teams involved with the project have had to develop creative solutions, so that the contractor has room to work safely while also moving motorists through the corridor with minimal delays,” Jenkins says.

Among the solutions is creating a split merge and building two crossovers on the north end of the project. This allows northbound and southbound traffic to be shifted onto the roadbed in the opposite direction and for the reconstruction work under the local road to be completed without reducing the capacity of U.S. 23.

Dan’s Excavating, Inc. (DEI), headquartered in nearby Shelby Township, is the prime contractor. DEI is familiar with the project as they served as the contractor on phase one. They are also partnering with MDOT on several other large freeway projects in the state.

“DEI brings several years of experience along with a substantial workforce and equipment to get the project done,” Jenkins says. “They are one of the largest road/bridge building contractors in the state.”

On Schedule and on Budget
Construction on this phase began in spring 2023 and is projected to take three construction seasons. At this early point, the project is on schedule. “Although some interim staging dates have changed due to weather and unforeseen field conditions the project is currently on schedule to have all major construction completed by summer 2025,” Jenkins says. “The project is also on schedule to have all construction items finished by the final completion date of September 2027.”

The project has a budget of just under $162 million. It’s being funded by the Rebuilding Michigan Program and the Federal Government. The state is paying about 65 percent. Jenkins notes the project is currently on budget, which can be attributed to a quality-focused contractor and strict oversight by MDOT engineers, technicians, and consultant partners.

With the extension of the flex route, area commuters will enjoy improved travel times and a safer drive. Because the flex route is a more affordable option, MDOT can address other infrastructure issues.

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