NewsProject: Drive Safer


Specialized signs re-emerge on Milwaukee's freeways, warn drivers about dangerous stretch of road

I -94 message board of lanes blocked, WisDOT (1).jpg
Posted at 4:20 PM, May 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-17 19:20:29-04

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.

I -94 message board of lanes blocked, WisDOT (1).jpg
Lane blocked graphic on a I-43 sign board leading to a dangerous stretch of I-94 westbound.

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.

I-94 WB DMS, two left lanes blocked (1).PNG
Graphic that is placed on a message board on I-43 leading to I-94 westbound when there were lanes blocked.

"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.

Screen Shot 2023-05-17 at 3.35.55 PM.png
Liz Schneider, engineer for the Wisconson Department of Transportation freeway operations unit.

"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.

WisDOT DMS - lane closure graphic, I-94 @ 13 St - April 2023.png
WisDOT shows the special graphic sign on I-94 at 13 Street when a lane block has occured.

"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.

Driving on I-94 westbound where there are no emergency lanes for drivers to pull over into, making the area especially dangerous when a crash occurs, according to the WisDOT.

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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