Want to Advertise With Mike and Jon? Click Here to Learn More!

Mike & Jon New Logo Small

Search the Latest Local News

Flex Lanes may bury WALLY once and for all

Work is starting on the US-23 Flex Lane which will extend the quasi three-lane highway so that it stretches from Ann Arbor to Brighton during rush hours. The southern portion of this project was completed about six years ago and, after a slightly rocky start, it has been an unqualified success.

The flex lanes use upgraded shoulders for limited times – a few hours south in the morning and a similar time frame northbound in the afternoon – to add 50 percent road capacity during rush hour.

Highway department studies show that the work reduces commute times significantly. There was an initial increase in minor accidents but that abated once motorists got used to the loss of the shoulder lane and the need to merge back into two lanes midway between Brighton and Ann Arbor.

Best news for taxpayers is that the project was significantly cheaper than the billion-dollar-or-more price tag that would accompany a full expansion to three expressway lanes in both direction. Such an expenditure would not add much value since traffic is seldom a problem on that stretch during non-rush-hour times.

The flex lanes are so successful that similar work is now underway on I-96 east of Brighton as any traveler along that construction zone can wearily verify. It’s a pain, but it will be worth it.

The wisdom and cost-effectiveness of the flex lanes are so obvious that it is hard to remember that some entities – including those supposedly interested in improving transportation options – strongly opposed it.

Even odder is that fact that the opposition was based on the presumption that the flex lanes would work.

Back when the flex lanes were proposed, there was a little-known advisory committee in which supposed stakeholders from the region – mostly Washtenaw County – were charged with making recommendations on the utility of government-funded transportation projects. This committee had no final say but its recommendation carried weight. It approved the project, but only barely.

Among those opposing it was the representative from the Ann Arbor City Council who was upfront in his position. He didn’t want to make it easier for car travel into his city, fearing it would add to in-town traffic congestion and put added pressure on parking. He was wrong. Motorists have long proven that a long, traffic-congested commute will not stand in the way of where they want to go. Still, his position was understandable

More head-scratching was the opposition from the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. When it comes to enhancing transportation, it appears that the authority only considers buses and trains to be viable options. Something that helps car travel doesn’t cut it.

Which is odd because the authority has long backed a boondoggle of a commuter train fiasco – cutely named WALLY — that for decades has been proposed between Howell and Brighton. It will never happen and it makes no sense but that doesn’t faze supporters who still gush about its potential even as projected start-up costs have ballooned from $1 million to more than $30 million to more than $100 million dollars. And that doesn’t include operational subsidies for a train that would only serve, at best, fewer than 1,000 riders.

One of the benefits claimed by WALLY supporters is that it would ease commuter congestion on US-23, even though the impact of so few riders would be negligible.

The flex lanes, however, add 50 percent capacity, benefitting tens of thousands of commuters at a cost below the WALLY estimates, where only 1,000 or fewer would benefit.

So why would the AAATA oppose the flex lanes?

One plausible explanation is that if the flex lanes work, then there would be no need for their precious WALLY commuter train line. And, in fact, the noise about WALLY has greatly diminished with the success of the flex lanes.

And that’s a good thing. Too much money has already been wasted on WALLY, which never had a chance of getting off the ground.

Mass transit – including commuter trains – can be a good thing. But that doesn’t mean that every proposal is worthwhile. WALLY proponents need to understand that, and in so doing they can become more effective by becoming more flexible.

Don't Miss A Thing!

Join the GIGO family and get updates on the latest Livingston County News!

Subscribe to Livingston County News Alerts

More Stories Around Livingston County