Is it time for the “chicken lane” on Denton Highway to fly the coop?
The popular north-south road, also known as U.S. 377, features six main lanes in each direction — plus a seventh middle lane designed for left turns — for an 8-mile stretch connecting Loop 820 in Haltom City to Farm Road 1709 in Keller.
The left turn lane is also known as a chicken lane, a colloquial phrase that pays homage to the game of chicken motorists sometimes feel like they’re playing when they’re driving toward each other.
Those who drive Denton Highway will tell you that its chicken lane is among the busiest and most dangerous in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. For years, motorists have complained about growing congestion problems on the road, which cuts through one of the region’s fastest-growing residential areas as well as a major retail and commercial corridor.
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Nearly 45,000 motorists per day use the road, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments. That’s a higher traffic volume than some area freeways.
It turns out that the Texas Department of Transportation is working behind the scenes on a plan to replace the highway’s chicken lane with raised medians.
Although the replacement of left turn lanes with raised medians has been controversial in cities such as Colleyville and Southlake, state officials said the change has also been a success in areas of Arlington, southwest Fort Worth and other areas where motorists move more safely and traffic moves more smoothly.
Officials at the state transportation department said their aim is to install raised medians on roads with daily traffic counts of more than 20,000 vehicles. Agency studies have shown that raised medians reduce crashes by 40 percent and reduce the number of head-on collisions.
“We are coordinating with Haltom City, Watauga and Keller. transportation department spokesman Val Lopez said in an email. The approximate cost is $3.4 million, and a time line is still being developed, but the project could be awarded in the next couple of years.”
Not a passing lane
Not everyone along the 8-mile-long stretch of U.S. 377 agrees that removing the chicken lane is a good idea.
“I think the money could be better spent,” said Walter Grow, a Haltom City councilman who serves on the city’s Beautification Board. Grow said the issue has only briefly been discussed among city officials.
He anticipates that some businesses along U.S. 377 might oppose the plan because raised medians would limit access to their entrances. With raised medians, motorists sometimes have to make U-turns to reach businesses. Without medians, motorists can make direct left turns.
Grow is also concerned that landscaping for the medians could become an issue.
Police who frequently respond to accidents in the area say fatal collisions in the chicken lane aren’t the most common incident. For example, one of the most recent fatalities on the road involved a pedestrian in her 20s who was struck and killed about 1 a.m. June 28 by a southbound car near North Park in Haltom City.
However, collisions involving motorists making left turns from the chicken lane across oncoming traffic are more common, Keller police Capt. Tommy Simmons said. In those instances, having a raised median could reduce the number of places where motorists could make a left turn and would therefore reduce the potential for collisions.
“A (raised) median controls where you make these turns and reduces the number of potential points of contact,” he said.
A raised median also would prevent some other common misuses of the chicken lane, he said. Traffic officers say it’s common for motorists to illegally use the chicken lane for passing slower vehicles. And, some drivers use the chicken lane as their own main lane, driving on it for hundreds of feet until someone lets them into the traffic flow.
Both offenses are considered forms of illegal passing and could lead to fines of up to $200, depending upon which jurisdiction the offense is committed in, said Lonny Haschel, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman.
Playing chicken in other cities
Replacing chicken lanes with raised medians has been controversial in other cities.
In Southlake, many residents protested several years ago when raised medians were added to FM 1709, making it more of a challenge to execute a left turn into Southlake Town Square.
In Colleyville, residents have disagreed about the need for medians on Texas 26, also known as Colleyville Boulevard. That road is currently undergoing a massive renovation.
Business owners along the Colleyville highway fought the $41 million plan in 2014, arguing that the construction of raised medians hurt their revenues while not adding lane capacity to allow for more traffic in their area.
But the council went along with the 3-mile project on Texas 26 between John McCain Road and Brown Trail.
They said to the city of Colleyville, ‘we’re going to build it our way or it isn’t going to get funded.’
Arnie Block, Colleyville businessman
Arnie Block, who runs Eagle Transmission just south of Centerpark Drive in Colleyville, predicts that he will lose business once the median work is complete in Colleyville because customers will have to go down the street and make a U-turn to get to his store.
This week, Block said the median work on Texas 26 has just begun, so he hasn’t yet experienced a loss of business. But he was frustrated back in 2014 when officials from the state transportation department heard the concerns from him and other business owners and proceeded to approve the median project anyway.
“They said to the city of Colleyville, ‘we’re going to build it our way or it isn’t going to get funded,’ ” Block said.
Elsewhere, state officials say there are plenty of places where raised medians — which are considered a safer alternative to chicken lanes — have improved traffic flow.
TxDOT workers are putting the finishing touches on a raised median along U.S. 377 near Davidson Street in Benbrook, Lopez said.
Also, in Arlington, raised medians have replaced chicken lanes on Farm Road 157/South Cooper Street just south of the University of Texas at Arlington, near Arlington High School.
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.