3-year 'Flex Route Project' to begin Monday on I-96 in Oakland County

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Road work will begin Monday on a three-year project to turn part of Interstate 96 in Oakland County into a route that utilizes the median shoulder to alleviate rush-hour congestion.

Drivers will start encountering lane closures and diverted traffic for the I-96 Flex Route Project between Kent Lake Road in Lyon Charter Township and the Interstate 275/M-5/Interstate 696 interchange in Novi in May, after about two months of preparation, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation. 

The project, Michigan's second "flex route," will rebuild the median shoulder so that it can be used as an additional lane during morning and afternoon peak travel hours. Cameras and electronic message boards will be used to let drivers know when the lane is available for use.

The I-96 freeway looking westbound near the Beck Road ramp in Novi on Thursday. Drivers will start to see lane closures for road work on the I-96 Flex Route in Oakland County, scheduled for completion over the next three years.

"It is pretty simple: no one likes sitting in traffic. It takes away from valuable time at home, with friends, or at work," said MIchigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "... Orange cones and barrels are hitting the road as work begins on our Flex Route, where the freeway shoulder can be used by motorists during peak travel times to save drivers time on their commutes." 

A flex route system is a lane control system that uses cameras and electronic messages alert drivers when an extra lane -- the rebuilt median shoulder -- is available, according to MDOT. The first flex route was installed on U.S.-23 north of Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

The flex route is slated for a stretch of the freeway that sees an average of 88,531 cars a day, according to MDOT. It will cost an estimated $269 million and is funded through Whitmer's Rebuilding Michigan program, the governor said.

Starting in May and through late fall, work will begin between Kent Lake Road and Wixom Road, and eastbound and westbound traffic will be shifted onto the westbound lanes, with two lanes open in each direction to accommodate the rebuilding of the eastbound lanes. 

In that time, traffic will have three eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes between Wixom Road and the I-275/M-5/I-696, and the following ramps will be closed until late fall: 

  • The northbound and southbound Kent Lake Road ramps to eastbound I-96
  • The northbound and southbound Milford Road ramps to eastbound I-96
  • The eastbound I-96 exit ramps to Milford and Wixom roads
  • The Milford and Wixom road ramps to westbound I-96

In 2023, rebuilding will continue on eastbound I-96 from Wixom Road to the I-275/I-696/M-5 interchange, and traffic will have two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes shifted onto the westbound side of the freeway through these limits.

The following year, westbound I-96 will be rebuilt from the I-275/I-696/M-5 interchange to Kent Lake Road. I-96 traffic will be shifted to the eastbound side of the freeway, with two lanes open in each direction.

In addition to rebuilding the media shoulders, the project will include sign upgrades and active traffic management installation, including intelligent transportation systems equipment, overhead gantry installation and ramp signals for metering traffic onto the freeway.

Electronic message boards will alert drivers with speed advisories and travel information.

The first flex route was installed on U.S.-23 north of Ann Arbor from M-14 to M-36 in Washtenaw and Livingston counties in 2017.