MILWAUKEE — Some specialized graphics are re-emerging on Milwaukee freeways to better warn drivers when there are problems ahead.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) signs are unique to an area of the downtown without emergency lanes, so it can be dangerous to other drivers when a crash has occurred.
A warning for drivers around Milwaukee is back on the highway message board. They are color graphics that show where a lane is blacked and they have been around since 2018. But once the pandemic hit, Liz Schneider, WisDOT engineer for the freeway operation unit, says there was not a lot of use for them.
"We did have lighter traffic during the pandemic so during 2020, 2021, and during a large part of last year, traffic still had not been back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Schneider.
But since the traffic volume is up, WisDOT put the lane block graphics back into regular rotation to target a dangerous stretch of the freeway downtown.
"Specifically, you have that graphic because the westbound section of I-94, between 19th Street and the Stadium, is a four-lane section and it does not have any shoulders, there is no distress lane or emergency pull-off lane in that section. So being able to tell drivers when there's a lane blocked in there in that section gives them a chance to divert or just be prepared,” said Schneider.
The WisDOT specifically upgraded the signboards on I-43 leading into the west part of I-94. So from Locust on I-43 going south and between Oklahoma and Lincoln going north on I-43, you will see the color and picture graphics if there is an emergency on the road.
"That's just such a congested and busy part of the freeway system. So we want to give drivers that extra awareness, and also because there aren't any shoulders in that section,” said Schneider.
According to the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, 60 percent of all crashes that occur on the freeways in the county happen between the Marquette Interchange and Capitol Drive on I-43 going north, as well as between the Marquette Interchange and the Zoo Interchange along I-94 east and west. So that includes that dangerous stretch of road.
WisDOT says on top of a primary crash, any incident on the freeway can lead to more incidents.
"When we have large accidents on the freeway. I mean it's unfortunate, but sometimes we have secondary crashes. That's what they're called,” said Schneider. “There's unexpected stopping-go traffic which can cause rear-end accidents and fender benders, so we want to give drivers a head up."
More of these types of graphic signs should be coming to areas around the state. WisDOT says anytime they replace a signboard they upgrade it to one that is color capable. However, they said more often than not drivers will see an amber-colored sign message because research shows drivers are best able to read those signs in all weather conditions.
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