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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The Utah Department of Transportation has opened Utah's first flex lanes system on 5400 South between Redwood Road and Bangerter Highway in Salt Lake County on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.

TAYLORSVILLE — Commuters on 5400 South got their first taste of "flexible" driving Wednesday morning as Utah's first flex lanes project officially was implemented.

The Utah Department of Transportation installed the $16 million design on 5400 South between Redwood Road and Bangerter Highway. By switching the direction of traffic of one or more lanes during peak usage hours, UDOT expects to improve traffic flow.

Flex lanes are an effective and inexpensive way to increase traffic flow using the existing roadway, according to UDOT deputy director Tim Rose. About 40,000 vehicles drive along the two-mile stretch each day. 

Flex lanes are most effectively used on roadways with traffic congestion primarily in one direction during peak travel times, Rose said. Many corridors and freeways throughout the country successfully use flex lanes — also called reversible lanes — to reduce traffic congestion, he added.

According to UDOT, implementing flex lanes will improve travel time and reduce traffic congestion now and in the future, as well as increase peak-hour roadway capacity without the need to widen the roadway and impact existing property.

Under the current design aimed at improving east-west mobility on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, flex lanes will provide four eastbound lanes, a center turn lane and two westbound lanes during the morning rush hour from 6 to 9 a.m. That configuration will be reversed for the evening commute from 3 to 7 p.m., with four westbound lanes, a center turn lane and two eastbound lanes.

UDOT designed a series of operational features to ensure safety and effectiveness at 5400 South, including electronic overhead signs spaced about 500 feet apart that will indicate the direction that traffic is flowing for each lane. Green arrows indicate lanes that are open for drivers, while a red "X" indicates an opposing traffic lane. A yellow "X" will indicate a lane that is in transition and that drivers need to merge right, while turning arrows indicate the center turn lane for left turns.

Drivers will have plenty of time to merge out of the transitioning lanes before they change direction, Rose explained.

The Wednesday morning drive was generally uneventful as motorists navigated the new lane design without incident. However, some drivers expressed concern about potential problems the new configuration could create.

"It works pretty good, but it's kind of confusing," said Kenzie Penney of Taylorsville.

Despite the initial confusion posed by the new design, Penney said, she was pleased with UDOT's effort to ease traffic congestion in her area.

"They need to make it flow a little easier so that people don't get as stressed out," she added.

Another driver, Linaee Hultquist of Murray, said it likely will take some time to adjust to the new lane setup.

"It's going to be scary for people to get use to," Hultquist said. "There will probably be a lot of accidents. But in the long run, for reducing traffic congestion, it was long overdue." 

While some drivers worry about possible confusion created by the overhead electronic signage, Rose said there is a simple way to stay oriented.

"All you really need to do is look above your head, and if you see a red 'X,' you're in the wrong lane and need to get to the right immediately and move along," Rose said. "Just look above your head and drivers will know exactly where they need to be."

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