To nix confusion, some 'flex lane' lights turned off
Traffic control • Two lane-control lights shut down near 5400 South intersections.
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Taylorsville • State officials now figure they installed too many control lights along new "flex lanes" on 5400 South, where some lanes go one direction in the morning and the opposite direction in the afternoon.

So many red, green and yellow lane lights are on overhead gantries there — every 500 feet, to ensure drivers know which lanes are open or closed to them — that some motorists had trouble discerning regular intersection signals among the many rows of colorful lights ahead of them.

As a result, some people were running red lights unwittingly or slamming on brakes at the last second.

"So we turned off the two outside lane control lights [where traffic never reverses direction anyway] just before and after each intersection," said Tim Rose, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation's Region 2. "That helps the intersection signals stand out a little bit better."

He said that change came amid suggestions from commuters and after watching traffic on the stretch between Bangerter Highway and 1900 West since flex lanes became operational Nov. 7.

"For the most part, people have gotten used to it, and it's working really well," Rose said of the first reversible lanes in Utah — and the first reversible lanes in the nation that also allow left turns from middle lanes to businesses along the stretch.

The overhead gantries have green arrows in lanes where traffic is allowed, red X's where it is not, yellow X's where traffic should begin moving out of lanes because directions are about to change, and yellow left-turn markers for the middle turn lane.

That allows four lanes of traffic in the direction of heavy commuting and two in the other direction at peak hours. In off-peak times, it allows three lanes in each direction. UDOT says using reversible lanes was the preferred alternative to widening the road — which would have led to demolition of many businesses and homes.

When lanes first opened, wary drivers seemed to try to stay in the far-right lanes and away from the lanes that reversed direction. But Rose said commuters became accustomed quickly, and few problems have occurred as familiarity with the lanes increased. He said congestion has decreased.

Accidents in the area "were about average for a November," he said.

The flex-lane stretch had 16 accidents in November. That was fewer than the 24 there in August, but more than the 11 in October. "So the accident rate," Rose said, "really is right about where it has been over the past six months."

He added that so far, UDOT is pleased enough with the performance of the lanes that it could use the system in other areas where traffic is heavy in one direction in the morning and the opposite direction in the afternoon.

"It's something in the toolbox that we will use if needed," he said. "It's just a matter of finding that right situation."