It’s construction season; time to learn the effectiveness of the late merge (editorial) | VailDaily.com

It’s construction season; time to learn the effectiveness of the late merge (editorial)

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Our View

It's been said that Colorado highways experience two seasons: winter and construction. We're in construction season.

There's only one significant project on Interstate 70 through the valley right now — bridge work just west of Wilmore Lake between Edwards and Wolcott. That work narrows the highway to one lane in each direction in the construction zone, which creates some backups during our valley's blessedly brief peak traffic times.

But that project, and others around the state, have rules for merging into that single lane, something transportation officials call a "late merge."

You've probably seen the signs on the highway directing motorists to use both lanes to the merge point, which is generally pretty close to the actual construction zone.

Merging that late seems counter intuitive. Shouldn't we all just get into the proper lane as soon as we see the signs?

The Colorado Department of Transportation's website has the results of research into various ways to merge into construction zones. And it turns out that on rural highways, late merging can reduce congestion-related traffic lines by about 50 percent.

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According to the quoted study from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, late merging can also reduce road-rage incidents.

Transportation officials in this state have for several years been touting the late merge, and signs have gone up in the past few construction seasons.

Still, for whatever reason, the multiple signs going into the work zones don't seem to have much effect. In the case of the work zone in this valley, many people shuffle into the correct lane too soon and then sit — and presumably simmer — while other traffic rolls past to the merge point. There, another backup results as motorists jockey for a spot in the through lane, rather than following the signs instructing to "take turns, merge here."

It seems like in construction zones, we can all take a hint from those times we've been driving away from concerts or other special events: Take a deep breath, stay patient and let the next person into the line.

So let's all try the late merge on our next drive through a work zone. It's pretty easy, and it seems to work.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott Miller.