Beltline work brings backups alongside promise of brighter, less-congested future

Beltline Traffic

MADISON, Wis. – Waiting for good things can be a bit like waiting in traffic.

“Oh yeah, I get frustrated like anybody else,” said Mitchel Carlson.

No one knows the ins and outs of that better than cab drivers such as Carlson, who’s grown quite familiar with the Beltline in his three years working for Green Cab.

“I probably go up and down the Beltline in its entirety 20 times a day,” Carlson said.

In Madison, it’s a hard road to avoid, and one that’s been bogged down with more traffic during road work this year. Carlson has had a front row view of that from behind his Tesla’s windshield.

“The Beltline has been a little busier with construction,” he said. “I think they’ve done a good job keeping the work off peak hours.”

Barrels come out signaling lane closures from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. through 6 a.m. week days, with some weekend work, too, according to Steve Theisen, communications manager with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

“Certainly with construction there’s the headaches and frustration,” Theisen said, adding that the work will also bring resurfaced pavement, an improved barrier wall and flex lanes, or the ability to use the shoulder as an extra lane from the Interstate to Whitney Way.

“It’s a way to safely and effectively alleviate congestion,” he said.

The work to get there can lead to congestion and long waits, especially at night when the three-lane highway on each side is down to one lane both ways.

“There’s a multitude of operations happening throughout the area that we need to provide that safe area for crews to get into and out of the work zone to make their work the best product as possible as well as in a timely manner,” Theisen said. “There are sections where there’s lane closures. For continuity with the drivers, we want to make sure that they’re familiar each night with what to expect as well as providing that safe barrier and buffer for construction crews.”

The work will finish up by the end of the year. In the meantime, Theisen said we’re all in the driver’s seat to slow down, pay attention and make sure we get there safely.

“We need drivers’ help to get to the end goal and completed project and making sure the men and women can get home safely to their families,” he said.

“I get frustrated the most with the car accidents in rush hour,” Carlson said. “You see people going 75, 80, 90, 100 miles per hour on the Beltline every day. It’s scary.”

Carlson asks speeders slow down too, as he looks forward to the flex lanes down the road.

“I like that,” he said. “That’s going to make it more efficient for people.”

The lanes will open sometime next year, Theisen said, with the DOT looking to “long term solutions” for the Beltline. Specifics on that are still under wraps.